Public high school students across the nation have reached a significant milestone: an 80 percent graduation rate. The new statistics are encouraging, particularly because education officials attribute gains to an increase in graduation rates among African-American and Hispanic students.
The achievement gap between white and minority students is shrinking, which is reason to celebrate. Nationwide, graduation rates increased by 15 percentage points for Hispanics and 9 points for black students between 2006 and 2012, bringing those rates to 76 percent and 68 percent, respectively.
The 80 percent national graduation rate shows that educators, students, and parents are hard at work. Positive results have occurred because of policy changes that have shifted performance accountability to individual schools.
The significant jump, according to a U.S. Department of Education report based on 2012 figures, might also be a reflection of our times. Finding gainful employment without completing high school is virtually impossible. The Great Recession swept away many of the jobs that were sought by those who chose to leave school early.
Today, a diploma is an essential credential for any student. There is still much work to be done: Graduation rates for low-income students, who are often minorities, range from 58 percent to 85 percent, the report states. Strides are being made, but education and instructional reforms must continue in all school districts, particularly those in urban areas where impoverished minorities live.
Toledo Public Schools’ graduation rates have hovered between 63 percent and 65 percent in recent years. Those rates accurately reflect how devastating the achievement gap remains. For example, 72 percent of white TPS students graduated in 2013, according to state data, while only about 61 percent of black students and 58 percent of Hispanic students graduated.
It’s a tricky proposition — declaring that minority students are largely responsible for the increase in graduation rates, but also acknowledging how far behind they continue to lag.
While the new figures are highly encouraging, TPS and many other school districts have a long way to go before they measure up to the current national statistics — or the 90 percent graduation rate the nation is projected to realize by 2020.