by Maya Rhodan
NNPA Washington Correspondent
WASHINGTON (NNPA) – In 2010, more than 3 million students received their high school diploma accounting for 78.2 percent of students who started secondary school four years prior, according to a new report by the National Center for Education Statistics.
According to Robert Stillwell, a NCES statistician and co-author the report, says the graduation rate hasn’t been this high since the 1969-70 school year.
But the graduation rate for Blacks could be higher.
According to the report, the graduation rate for African American students in 2010 was 66.1 percent, compared to 83 percent for Whites and 93.5 percent for Asian American students.
In terms of drop out rates, 5.5 percent of African American students dropped out of 9-12th grade, 2 points higher than the national average of 3.4 percent.
“No one has nailed down why, it’s particular to each and every student who wants to drop out,” says Donna Harris Aikens, director of Education Policy and Practice for the National Education Association. “However, it can be argued that it is a reflection of the achievement gap.”
In Vermont and Wisconsin, the overall graduation rate was as high as 91 percent. However, in the District of Columbia. the graduation rate was only 59.9 percent, just above Nevada, which had the lowest rate in the country at 57.8 percent.
Harris Aikens says that although any raise in the rate is something to be celebrated, the data should be used to close the existing achievement gaps so all students graduate at high rates.
“The questions becomes how do we make sure that each student is learning and progressing.” Harris Aikens says. “How do we close the gap for Black students?”
She says students who don’t have access to rigorous and engaging curriculum or advanced coursework necessary for college could feel like they aren’t spending their time wisely in school..
Leslie Fenwick, the dean of the School of Education at Howard University agrees, stating that there are communities within the U.S. where students are being “educationally malnourished,” and as result of that are “opting out” of school.
“Drop out rates are declining, but they are still too high,” Fenwick says. “The differences between Black and White students shouldn’t be attached to skin color; it should be attached to caliber of resources being made available to Black, Brown and poor students.”
Asian students dropped out at the lowest rates in the country in 2010, with only 1.9 percent of students failing to return to classrooms. Among White students, the rate stands at 2.3 percent.
And although Hispanic students saw a significant decrease in their drop out rate, it still remains at 5 percent.
According to a 2012 analysis of Department of Education data by the Civil Rights Project, Black and Latino students are more likely to attend segregated, impoverished schools. Such schools known to have fewer resources, low quality teachers, and a high principal turnover —all factors that can lead to poorly educated students.
“Caliber of teaching, consistent access to an engaging curriculum – those are the input variables that affect a student’s ability to persist,” Fenwick says. “When you burden students with poor schools they will respond by opting out. Nobody wants to stay in a dead setting.”
Students who don’t receive a high school diploma earn less over their lifetime according a 2011 Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce report that says those with diplomas earn about $1.3 million dollars throughout life.
Those without will only make $973, 000. Yet, about a quarter of students are still dropping out of high schools across the country.
Harris-Aikens, however, is remains hopeful.
“Given the significant change in the graduation rate, we’re on the right path,” she says. “As long as the grad rate continues to be the national priority the graduation rate will continue to rise.”
Although students across are graduating at higher rates, studies show students remain less-than prepared for life after graduation.
According to the ACT 2012 National College Readiness report, 25 percent of high school graduates met the college readiness benchmark. In 2010, 24 percent of students met the mark.
About half of high school students take the ACT every year. The benchmarks they set determine a student’s likelihood of completing their first year of college with a C average or better.
“ You don’t just want them to graduate, you want students to graduate prepared for the next steps in their lives.”
In 2012, only 5 percent of African Americans met all four of the college readiness standards, compared to 32 percent of Whites and 42 percent of Asian Americans.
Although NCES did not evaluate the causes of the increased graduation rate, Stillwell says it may have something to do with the state of the economy.
“Traditionally there has been shown, in economic literature, a correlation between the economy and graduation/dropout rates,” said Stillwell via email. “The commonly attributed assumption is that fewer students will dropout if there is not sufficient employment options for high school dropouts.”
At one point in 2010, the employment rate was 51.1 percent for people 18-24.