IF percentages were all that mattered, then the nation’s improving high school graduation rate would be a reason to celebrate. The newest calculation from researchers at Education Week shows that nearly 75 percent of the Class of 2010 — those students who began as high school freshmen four years earlier — graduated on time with a standard diploma.
The percentage is significantly higher than 10 years ago and is climbing closer to the all-time high of 77.1 percent, the newspaper reported. The 2010 data was the most recent available, but researchers used the information to project results for the just-graduated Class of 2013. Their prediction: A staggering 1 million students who began as high school freshmen in the 2009-10 school year didn’t get a diploma this spring.
That’s worth repeating: As many as 1 million students who should have graduated in the past two months with a high school diploma either walked away or left empty-handed.
In its annual Diplomas Count special report, the newspaper did the math that makes the heartbreak of those numbers even more real: More than 5,500 students were “lost” each school day, or one student every 31 seconds.
It’s difficult to celebrate improvement when so many students are staring at the prospect of life without a high school diploma. Research shows such young people have trouble gaining and keeping employment, and make far less money than their peers. They are less likely to vote and are more prone to crime. For young women without a diploma, any children they have or will have in the future face a reduced hope of obtaining a diploma.
From 2000 to 2010, Oklahoma’s graduation rate (as calculated by Education Week) beat the national average. This wasn’t true in 2008 or in the most recent data for 2010, with a reported rate of 73.9 percent. For the most recent school year, the newspaper predicted more than 14,000 Oklahoma students didn’t graduate on time.
Minor year-to-year deviations aren’t nearly as important as the real-life students behind the numbers. Oklahoma’s policymakers are focused on making sure the state’s high school students are prepared for what awaits them, whether that’s college or the workforce. It’s the right focus.
The overall improvement in the state’s graduation rate suggests schools are doing a better job of preparing students for high school and identifying and assisting students who are at risk of dropping out. The hard truth, though, is that many students leave school for circumstances that have nothing to do with academics, including the need to financially contribute to their families or care for family members.
Policymakers and those who work with students day in and day out know there are no easy answers when it comes to dropouts. Still, the stakes are too high to slow down or stop the search for strategies to prevent students from dropping out or luring back to school those who left too soon. Every one of those students has a name and a story and a future every bit as important as those who leave school with a diploma in hand.