The U.S. Department of Education is falling over itself congratulating schools for a record 82% graduation rate for 2014; that is an increase of 1% over 2013. Of course, graduation rates for African-American students, Hispanic students, low income, English language learners and children with disabilities all lag significantly behind those of their white counterparts. Nonetheless, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is full of pride.
There are a couple of things people should know about these graduation rates. First of all, in order to be counted as graduating a student must graduate “on time”. That means within 4 years of starting high school. It is very good to have a high percentage of your students graduating “on time”. So even if you are a child with a disability, and even if that disability guarantees you a free, appropriate (emphasis added) education until you are 21, school systems will push you out the door if at all possible so you can be counted as graduating on time. No matter that you have a legal right to more education that might improve your chances of success as an adult once you have exited high school.
Another issue with the emphasis on “on time” graduation rates is that while the graduation rates are going up, there is no evidence that the readiness for college and careers of high school graduates is also improving. In fact, institutions of higher education report little change in the number of students who need remedial courses upon entering college. It seems even plain kids are being pushed out the door rather than getting the education they need to succeed.
“Dropout factories” complicate the problem. These are schools where as many as two-thirds of students drop out of school before completing their coursework. Often these school buildings are in huge need of maintenance and the teachers are the least prepared. Additionally, over 20 states don’t provide any English/language arts or math courses that prepare students for college and careers. Over half of all states offer multiple paths to a diploma. That in itself is not bad. What is bad is the failure to prepare students for the next phase of their lives, regardless of how long it takes.
Now that would be something to celebrate.