Ohio has one of the top high-school graduation rates in the nation for white students, but one of the lowest for African Americans. The racial gap — fourth largest among the states — must be closed.
Across Ohio, 80 percent of high school students get a diploma, according to the U.S. Department of Education. But 85 percent of white students graduate, while only 59 percent of their black classmates join them at commencement.
Poor students in Ohio also have a harder time making it through school: Only 65 percent complete high school.
Michigan scores even lower. Only 74 percent of Michigan students graduate from high school. The gap between whites and blacks was 23 percentage points, with 80 percent of white students graduating, but only 57 percent of their African-American classmates.
Federal data also tracked the graduation rates of other minorities, students with disabilities, and non-native English speakers. The 2010-11 school year was the first in which states used common, more-rigorous criteria to count graduates.
Nationally, Iowa topped the list with the highest graduation rate for all students, while Nevada, at 62 percent, was at the bottom of the barrel. Nevada also graduated the lowest percentage of black students (43 percent). Idaho, Kentucky, and Oklahoma did not contribute data on graduation rates.
Minnesota, where 84 percent of whites and 49 percent of blacks graduated last year, had the biggest gap, at 35 percentage points.
Nevada, at 28 percentage points, and Wisconsin, at 27 points, also had bigger gaps than Ohio.
Life doesn’t get easier for black high school graduates who want to go to college. Federal data show that black college students — especially males — are less likely to finish their undergraduate degree than their white peers. Recent data suggest that fewer than half of black students who enter college receive a degree, compared to more than 60 percent of white students.
Among other ethnic minorities in Ohio, 88 percent of Asian students, 71 percent of Native Americans, and 66 percent of Latin/Hispanic students graduated. The only students in the study who graduated at a lower rate than blacks were students with limited English proficiency (53 percent).
Acting state schools superintendent Michael Sawyers told the Columbus Dispatch that school districts often have low expectations for their black students. “The excuse making must stop,” he said.
Students who don’t finish high school are condemned to low-paying jobs with few benefits and little hope of advancement. When one race is disproportionately represented among nongraduates, the result is economic segregation.
Reforms under way in Toledo Public Schools and the Cleveland Metropolitan School District hope to address problems faced by minority and poor students, as well as general instructional quality and graduation rates. A recent plan by Ohio university presidents to link state aid to college graduation rates holds promise.
High-quality education and high graduation rates are necessary to compete in the global economy, attract businesses, and create good jobs. Ohio can’t afford to leave any group behind.