NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


April 1, 2008

The likelihood that a ninth-grader in one of the nation's biggest cities will clutch a diploma four years later amounts to a coin toss -- not much better than a 50-50 chance, new research finds.  Cross into the suburbs, and the odds improve dramatically, according to a study commissioned by America's Promise Alliance.

The findings look closely for the first time at the gap in high school graduation rates between public schools in the 50 biggest cities and the suburbs that surround them.  Among the alarming disparities:

  • In 12 cities, the gap exceeds 25 percentage points.
  • Of those cities, nine are in the Northeast or Midwest.
  • In Baltimore, the disparity between urban and suburban graduation rates was 47 percent.

Researcher Christopher Swanson, who analyzed 2004 graduation data from the Education Department, says the largest districts contribute disproportionately to the nation's graduation crisis.  For example:

  • They educate 1.7 million high school students -- about one in eight.
  • Yet they account for nearly one in four students who don't graduate each year.

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings calls the gap unacceptable, especially now that 90 percent of our fastest-growing jobs require education or training beyond high school.

She plans to take administrative steps that will require states to use the same formula to calculate graduation rates, and that they make it public so that people nationwide can compare how students of every race, background and income level are performing.

Source: Greg Toppo, "'Crisis' graduation gap found between cities, suburbs," USA Today, April 1, 2008; based upon: Christopher B. Swanson, "Cities in Crisis: A Special Analytic Report on High School Graduation," America's Promise Alliance, April 1, 2008.

For text: 


Browse more articles on Education Issues