NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


April 23, 2009

It is no surprise that more students drop out of high school in big cities than elsewhere.  Now, however, a nationwide study commissioned by the America's Promise Alliance entitled, "Closing the Graduation Gap," shows the magnitude of the gap: the average high school graduation rate in the nation's 50 largest cities was 53 percent, compared with 71 percent in the suburbs.

But that urban-suburban gap, which in part is due to hundreds of failing city schools that some researchers call dropout factories, was far wider in some areas:

  • In Cleveland, for instance, where the gap was largest, only 38 percent of high school freshmen graduated within four years, compared with 80 percent in the Cleveland suburbs.
  • In Baltimore, which has the nation's second-largest gap, 41 percent of students graduate from city schools, compared with 81 percent in the suburbs.
  • New York also had a large gap, with 54 percent of freshmen graduating within four years from schools in the city, compared with 83 percent from suburban high schools.

Other findings:

  • The Indianapolis public schools had the lowest graduation rate of any large American city in 2005, with only 30 percent of freshmen graduating on time.
  • Several large Western cities, in contrast, had graduation rates that exceeded the national average; the Mesa Unified District in Arizona had the highest graduation rate of any large city, with 77 out of every 100 freshmen there graduating four years later.

Source: Sam Dillion, "Large Urban-Suburban Gap Seen in Graduation Rates," New York Times, April 22, 2009.

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