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Published: Thursday, 2/26/2004

Minority graduation in Ohio, Michigan schools rates poorly

BY KAREN MACPHERSON
BLADE WASHINGTON BUREAU

WASHINGTON - Only about half of minority students in the United States are being graduated from high school, and Ohio and Michigan are among the states with the lowest graduation rates for minority students, according to a report released yesterday by the Urban Institute and the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University.

Researchers said at a news conference that 76 percent of white students in Ohio were graduated from high school in 2001, compared with 44 percent of Hispanic students and 40 percent of African-American students.

In Toledo Public Schools, 46 percent of white students were graduated from high school, compared with 33 percent of black students and 33 percent of Hispanic students, according to the report.

In Michigan, 77 percent of white students were graduated from high school, compared with 37 percent of Hispanic students, the study said. Researchers said they did not calculate the graduation rate for African-American students in Michigan because of flaws in the data. “We have a tragic situation today under which high school graduation in American now is literally a 50-50 proposition for minority students,” said Christopher Edley, co-director of the Civil Rights Project.

But the low graduation rate for minority students is often hidden by under-reporting of data or inaccurate data, said Christopher Swanson, co-author of the study, Losing Our Future: How Minority Youth Are Being Left Behind By the Graduation Rate Crisis. “The dropout data in use today misleads the public into thinking that most students are earning diplomas. The reality is that there is little, or no, state or federal oversight of dropout or graduation rate reports for accuracy,” the study said.

Mr. Edley said many districts fail to report minority dropouts - and even try to push struggling students out of high school - so they can maintain higher average test scores and graduation rates.

This trend is likely to be exacerbated by new regulations for the No Child Left Behind law. The new regulations allow states to report only overall graduation rates and do not require states to break out the rates by minority subgroups, he said.

“It sets up a hide-the-minority situation,” Mr. Edley said. “It gives school districts an incentive to push out the lowest-testing and lowest-performing students. That s why requiring graduation rate accountability [from states and school districts] is so crucial.”

U.S. Department of Education officials had no comment.

But Jane Bruss, a Toledo Public Schools spokesman, noted that the figures showed Toledo schools graduated minority students at a greater rate than other large schools in Ohio, such as Cleveland and Columbus. She said the state s figures show the graduation rate for all students improved from 59 percent in 1998-99 to 71 percent in 2002-2003.

The graduation rates in the Urban Institute/Civil Rights Project report are based on a new measure developed by Mr. Swanson. It allows states graduation rates to be compared. States traditionally compute the rate in different ways, making comparison difficult.

“What we are talking about today is on-time completion of high school,” Mr. Edley said. “What we are after is a sense of if schools are doing a good job with students and, in particular, if they are doing a comparably good job with different subgroups of students.”



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