Counting on Graduation: An Agenda for State Leadership

Stafford Palmieri

Anna Habash
Education Trust
Fall 2008

This report evaluates the current state of U.S. high school graduation rates and offers ideas for how to raise these historically unsatisfactory numbers. It notes that "the United States is the only industrialized country in the world in which today's young people are less likely than their parents to have completed high school." No doubt prepared to coincide with this week's release of new No Child Left Behind regulations (see above), the report intends to pressure states to aim high when setting their dropout-reduction goals. To that end, author Anna Habash calls out states that expect minimal progress on this front. In Maryland, for example, the 2006 graduation rate was 85.43 percent. But the Free State only requires schools to aim for improvements of 0.01 percent each year in order to stay out of trouble with NCLB. At that pace, Maryland won't reach its goal of a 90 percent graduation rate until 2463. For Maryland African American students, then graduating at 78.89 percent annually, that 90 percent target won't be reached until the year 3117. These are certainly compelling figures (a millennium?!) but raising graduation improvement rates is no panacea and could yield the same unintended consequences that plagued NCLB's "universal proficiency" mandate. Namely: if you require states to get all students or almost all students over any given bar, you create a temptation for them to lower said bar. The result could be diplomas that retain mere appellative vestiges of their former selves. With that cautionary note in mind, you can find the report here.

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