Harry Wong
Dec 2017
Vol 14 No 4

Record US High School Graduation Rate of Black and Hispanic Youth

By Stewart Brekke

According to a recent study, for the first time in American history the high school graduation rate was over 80 percent. If the the rate of improvement in this statistics sustained, by 2020 the high school graduation rate will approach 90 percent. Since 2006 the national rate has increased by an average percentage of about 1.3 each year. This report was generated by America’s Promise Alliance, a group founded by Colin Powell, former US Secretary of State, and other organizations.

Since 2006 Hispanic students have increased their graduation rates growing by approximately 15 percent, and  African Americans increased their graduation rates by 9 percent. Whites have an average graduation rate of 85 percent compared to 76 percent for Hispanics and 68 percent for blacks. The report suggests some state policy recommendations such as encouraging college and career readiness. Texas also gives high school districts financial incentives to recover dropouts. Texas and Indiana graduate low income students at an 85percent rate, the highest in the country. Only six states graduate low income students at or above 80 percent. Fourteen states have now reached the 90 percent level graduation rates for middle and high income students. Ten other states have close to the 90 percent graduation level.

Because California has about 14 percent of all US students and one in five low income students, reaching a nationwide 90 percent graduation rate will depend on graduation success of California’s educational systems. Part of the success in graduating Latino students is attributed possibly to the growing numbers of those born in this country. They have better English language skills. Apparently, the No Child Left Behind Act demanded that school districts be held accountable for their graduation rates which was a condition for funding. Also, it is thought that the recession of 2007 and beyond created fewer employment opportunities to draw students away from school before graduation and therefore, more students decided to pursue a diploma and wait for better prospects. Further, today many jobs require more skills in comparison to those available in the past.

A third factor suggests a more proactive approach involving schools and teachers inspiring students and bringing parents into the educational process to support educational success. A comprehensive long term effort by teachers to make a difference for students is being made to developing a more engaging curricula and focusing less on test scores as well s providing more training for teachers who work with English language learners. The percentage of students dropping out of high school is at its lowest point at 7 percent down from 13 percent in 1993 because of this long term effort concentrating on black and Latino students in particular partly due to engaging the parents in their children’s’ education.

Schools that have worked to create a welcoming environment for the parents and bring them on as partners have experienced greater graduation rates. Apparently, graduation rates increase “when parents are part of the school community and kids come to school more often.” Black and Hispanic families and students may be responding to the rising returns of a college education by staying in school and graduating. For ages 18 to 24 Hispanics accounted for 18 percent of college enrollments in 2013 up from 12 percent in 2009.

In the Chicago Public Schools the increased graduation rate was also due in part to ninth grade interventions. In 2007 the Chicago Public Schools initiated a major effort focusing on keeping more ninth graders on track to graduation. The effort was made in response to a study by the University of Chicago which indicated that students who end their ninth grade on track were almost four times more likely to graduate from high school than those who are off track. Freshmen are considered on  track if they have enough credits to be promoted to the tenth grade and have no more than one semester F in a core course. The district used data to monitor students’ level of dropout risk through the ninth grade year. This enabled teachers to intervene before student fell too far behind. Some of the interventions were “calls to home when a student missed class to algebra tutoring and homework help. The goal was to match the intervention to the specific needs of the student and prevent the dramatic decline in grades and attendance that most (Chicago) students experience when they transition to high school.

Since that time, the (Chicago) on track rate has risen 25 percentage points from 57 to 82 percent” thereby improving the high school graduation rates. Originally, this ninth grade initiative was not thought to “produce a shift in performance, redefine approaches to the school dropout, and call into question the conventional wisdom that urban neighborhood high schools could not make radical improvements.” However, this on “track initiative achieved all of this,” i.e., large increases in graduations rates. Th CEO of the Chicago Public Schools thanked the professors of the University of Chicago for providing the critical research which led to the gains in graduation rates for Chicago students.

In regards to the above I was a science and mathematics teacher in the inner city of Chicago high schools in the 1980’s and 1990’s and remember how at the end of the school year only about half the students on record were attending class. Many students, especially freshmen, were absent about twenty days in each semester. A number of students rarely did classwork or homework. In a fellow teacher’s freshmen classes each student was supposed to do a science fair project in order to pass. Of about 150 students in her classes only about 25 did the science fair project and she had to fail about 87 percent of her class since the science fair project was a  science department requirement.

Her requirement was that the science fair project be completed at home and brought to school for a grade. Having worked at the school a for a number of years, I avoided failing the students by taking class time to do the science fair projects in class. In this manner I repeatedly had a high pass rate of  at risk freshmen and upperclassmen by reaching out to the young black students by addressing their needs. Another reason there is a higher graduation rate among minority students is the regarding of education as important by the parents, especially Hispanic. Hispanics make up 25 percent of public school students. Also, the dropout rate for black youth is at about 8  percent, a record low.

Black youth comprise about 16 percent of public school students. Asian youth continue to be the major racial group with the lowest dropout rate at about 4 percent in 2013. Students with disabilities graduate at a rate about 20 percent less than the national average. These students make up about 13 percent of all students nationally. The graduation rate for students with disabilities in Nevada for instance is about 24 percent.

Finally, graduation rates in large cities with high concentrations of low income students are much lower than the national average with graduation rates in the 60-70 percent range. But progress has been made regarding the number of “dropout” schools which are high schools that routinely graduate less than 60 percent of its students. The number of thee schools has declined 33 percent. Most of these so called “dropout” schools are located in high poverty areas especially in large cities. As stated above graduation rates in cities such as Chicago have improved by working with universities. In conclusion, decades of intervention by teachers and administrators and the fact that more students are discerning value in their education has led to increased high school graduation rates across the board. The increased graduation rates reflects improvements  that includes all demographics, but is especially true for black and Hispanic students.

References: Janie Boschma, High School Graduation Rates Are at an All-Time High, Especially for Latino Students.

National Journal (on line). Niraj Chokshi, For the first time, the US high school graduation rate tops 80 percent, report finds.

The Washington Post (on line). Richard Fry, U.S. high school dropout rate reaches record low, driven by improvements among Hispanics, blacks.

Pew Research Center (online). Emily Krone, Focus on ninth grade triggers climb in Chicago high school graduation rates, UChicago News

Alexandria Pannoni, Study: High School Graduation Rate On Track for 2020. U.S. News and World Report (on line).

About the author Stewart E Brekke is a retired high school physics, chemistry and mathematics teacher from the Chicago Public Schools. He received his PhD from the International University for Graduate Studies in 2012. He spends his retired years writing on educational subjects and presents scientific papers on astrophysics and nuclear physics.



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This entry was posted on Monday, December 1st, 2014 and is filed under *ISSUES, Dec 2014, Stewart Brekke. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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