NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


June 21, 2006

Students in a handful of big-city school districts have a less than 50-50 chance of graduating from high school with their peers, and a few cities graduate far fewer than half each spring, according to a new report in Education Week.

The findings present a bleak picture, say observers, and are sure to generate controversy as lawmakers and others push to keep U.S. students competitive globally.

While the basic finding that the nation's overall graduation rate is about 70 percent is not new, the researchers suggest that graduation rates are much lower than previously reported in many states.  Using 2002 and 2003 data, the most current available, they found:

  • Fourteen urban school districts have on-time graduation rates lower than 50 percent; they include Detroit, Baltimore, New York, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Los Angeles, Miami, Dallas, Denver and Houston.
  • Among the nation's 50 largest districts, three graduate fewer than 40 percent: Detroit (21.7 percent), Baltimore (38.5 percent) and New York City (38.9 percent).
  • Public schools graduate 69.6 percent of an estimated 4 million eligible students each spring, meaning about 1.2 million students likely won't graduate this year. That means about 7,000 students drop out per school day.

 The advantage of the new study is that "you could apply it to any and all school districts in the country with the same validity -- and the same problems," says Michael Casserly of the Council of the Great City Schools, an advocacy group for large urban districts.

He says it's still unclear whether the research overstates the problem. The analysis, strictly speaking, is not a calculation of dropout rates but of graduation rates; it estimates the probability that a student in ninth grade will complete high school on time and with a regular diploma.

Source: Greg Toppo, "Big-city schools struggle; Low graduation rates may also be a national problem, study finds," USA Today, June 21, 2006; based upon: "Diplomas Count: An Essential Guide to Graduation Policy and Rates," Education Week, Vol. 25, Issue 41S, June 2006.

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