While the nation's high school graduation rate exceeded 80 percent in 2012 for the first time, disparities in graduation rates for low-income and minority students remain, an annual study from Civic Enterprises, the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University's School of Education, America's Promise Alliance, and the Alliance for Excellent Education finds.
The report, Building a Grad Nation: Progress and Challenge in Ending the High School Dropout Epidemic 2014 (112 pages, PDF), found that the Averaged Freshman Graduation Rate in 2012 was 81 percent — on track to meet the goal of 90 percent by 2020. The report also found that the new Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate, which tracks the on-time graduation rates of individual students who enter high school together, was 80 percent. Since 2006, rates have risen 8 percentage points, driven in part by significant gains among Latinos (15 percentage points) and African Americans (9 percentage points) — although at 76 percent and 68 percent, respectively, graduation rates for those populations still lag those of other groups.
According to the report, one factor behind the improvement is a decline in the number and percentage of students enrolled in "dropout factory schools" — high-minority schools in which the reported twelfth-grade enrollment is 60 percent of the ninth-grade enrollment three years earlier or lower. While enrollment in such schools fell from 46 percent in 2002 to 23 percent in 2012 among African Americans and from 39 percent to 15 percent among Latinos, African-American and Latino enrollment in such schools remains disproportionately high compared to that of whites.
Funded by AT&T and Target, the report argues that in order to achieve a 90 percent high school graduation rate by 2020, the nation must close the opportunity gap for low-income students; reform or close remaining dropout factories in urban areas with concentrations of low-income students; improve rates among students with disabilities; focus on boosting progress in California, which is home to 14 percent of the nation's high school students and 20 percent of its low-income students; and accelerate improvement among young men of color in key states in the Midwest and South.
The data also underscore the need for more federal funding to ensure that all students are provided with the same opportunities, Daniel J. Losen, director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the University of California, Los Angeles, told the Los Angeles Times. "We still have many school districts where it looks like apartheid in America," said Losen. "It's going to require more than the contributions of the private sector and the competitive grants of the federal government."