The United States has something to celebrate about their education system, more high school students are graduating than ever before. The US Department of Education released data on Tuesday, December 15, 2015 showing the graduation rates for the 2013-14 academic year and an average of 82 percent of students graduate on time. The average is up two percent from the previously released data. The number is misleading as there are significant gaps in demographic groups and in different states. Although the US can be pleased with the results, other western countries including northern neighbors Canada have higher graduation rates. Globally the US has to do more for their education system to remain competitive.
The 82 percent graduation rate is the highest since 2010 when all the states adopted the same common metric, called the adjusted cohort graduation rate for determining graduation rates. The aim of the metric is “to promote greater accountability and develop strategies that will help reduce dropout rates and increase graduation rates in schools nationwide.” The metric seems to be working with the graduation rate rising each year since it was adopted four years ago. In every category and demographic there have been gains as the Washington Post noted “by race, income, learning disabilities and whether they are English-language learners.”
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan commending the results from National Center for Education Statistics, saying in the official press release, “America’s students have achieved another record milestone by improving graduation rates for a fourth year. The hard work of teachers, administrators, students and their families has made these gains possible and as a result many more students will have a better chance of going to college, getting a good job, owning their own home, and supporting a family. We can take pride as a nation in knowing that we’re seeing promising gains, including for students of color.”
Despite all the applause, the disparities between demographic groups are still there, even if they are shrinking. The gap between black and white students remains high at a difference of 14.8 percent, while the difference between Hispanics and whites is narrower at only 11 percent. Secretary Duncan explained to the press, “Students of color are improving faster than white students. That’s very encouraging. It means we’re closing the gaps.”
While there are improvements, Asian American and white students are excelling the most. In the 2013-14 year, Asian Americans had the highest graduation rate with 89.4 percent followed by white students with 87.2 percent, while the rate was 76.3 percent for Hispanics and 72.5 percent for African Americans. American Indian and Alaska Natives were the group with the lowest graduation rates with just 69.6 percent. The numbers show there is an economic inequality gap causing the disparities with the graduate rate for low-income students were 74.6 percent. Those with disabilities and English-language learners fared the worst, 63.1 percent and 62.6 percent respectively.
There were differences among the states as well, Iowa had the highest graduation rate with 90.5 percent and the District of Columbia the worst with only 61.4 percent, because of a heavily low-income and African American and Hispanic population. Some of the demographic groups that did not fare well in the national average did better in specific states, and in some states did worst. African American students did the best in Texas with an 84.2 percent graduation rate and Montana with 85-89 percent, but they did the worst in Nevada with only 53.9 percent. Texas also posted the best rates for Hispanics students with 85.5 percent graduating on time and in West Virginia with 85-89 percent, but they did the worst in Minnesota and New York, with 63.2 and 63.9 percent respectively.
The Education Secretary pointed out it is difficult to compare the school by location, because of different state and local requirements. Duncan said there are “four data points” to determine school success, “high school graduation rates, dropout rates, the percentage of high school graduates who need to take remedial classes when they begin college and the college graduation rate.” Secretary Duncan told the press, “You need all these things, you need checks and balances, multiple measures.”
Despite the excitement over the rising graduation rates in the US, the country is below the OECD average, which is 84 percent. The US lags behind most western countries including the United Kingdom, Canada, continental European countries, the Netherlands, Asian countries including Korea and Japan, and Australasia countries. Most of those countries have graduation rates in the mid to high 80s and up to the mid nineties.
According to the OECD’s 2012 data, Solvenia has the highest graduation rate with 96 percent, Germany and Iceland have 95 percent, Hungary has 94 percent, Japan and the UK both have 93 percent. Northern neighbors Canada have an 85 percent graduation rate as of 2015. According to the OECD’s data, the US only fares better than a handful of countries including Sweden, Greece, Luxenburg and Austria. Of the countries listed Mexico has the worst graduation rate with only 47 percent.
The US has to do more to increase their graduation rates. Although the slow climb is an improvement, even more needs to be done since the DC’s graduation rates are only 14 percent better than Mexico’s. Educators are already worried the new education law Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) replacing the test intensive No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) (2001) is not going to be that much better, and will not definitely bring the nation’s school up to par with the rest of the world.
Delegated Deputy Secretary John King acknowledged the problems that still exist in comments about the results, “It is encouraging to see our graduation rate on the rise and I applaud the hard work we know it takes to see this increase. But too many students never get their diploma, never walk across the graduation stage and while our dropout numbers are also decreasing, we remain committed to urgently closing the gaps that still exist in too many schools and in too many communities.”