Study: H.S. grad rates dismal in a third of major U.S. cities
Associated Press
April 1, 2008

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By Ken Thomas

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

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WASHINGTON Seventeen of the nation's 50 largest cities had high school graduation rates lower than 50 percent, with the lowest graduation rates reported in Detroit, Indianapolis and Cleveland, according to a report released today.

The report, issued by America's Promise Alliance, found that about half of the students served by public school systems in the nation's largest cities receive diplomas. Students in suburban and rural public high schools were more likely to graduate than their counterparts in urban public high schools, the researchers said.

Nationally, about 70 percent of U.S. students graduate on time with a regular diploma and about 1.2 million students drop out annually.

"When more than 1 million students a year drop out of high school, it's more than a problem: It's a catastrophe," said former Secretary of State Colin Powell, founding chair of the alliance.

His wife, Alma, the chair of the alliance, said students need to graduate with skills that will help them in higher education and beyond. "We must invest in the whole child, and that means finding solutions that involve the family, the school and the community." The Powells' organization was beginning a national campaign to cut high school dropout rates.

The group, joining Education Secretary Margaret Spellings at today's news conference, was announcing plans to hold summits in every state during the next two years on ways to better prepare students for college and the work force.

The report found troubling data on the prospects of urban public high school students getting to college. In Detroit's public schools, 24.9 percent of the students graduated from high school, while 30.5 percent graduated in Indianapolis Public Schools and 34.1 percent received diplomas in the Cleveland Municipal City School District.

Researchers analyzed school district data from 2003-2004 collected by the U.S. Department of Education. To calculate graduation rates, the report estimated the likelihood that a ninth-grader would complete high school on time with a regular diploma. Researchers used school enrollment and diploma data but did not use data on dropouts as part of the calculation.

Many metropolitan areas also showed a considerable gap in the graduation rates between their inner-city schools and the surrounding suburbs. Researchers found, for example, that 81.5 percent of the public school students in Baltimore's suburbs graduate, compared with 34.6 percent in the city schools.

Spellings has called for requiring states to provide graduation data in a more uniform way under the renewal of the No Child Left Behind education law pending in Congress.

Under the 2002 law, schools that miss progress goals face increasing sanctions, including forced use of federal money for private tutoring, easing student transfers and restructuring of school staffs.

States calculate their graduation rates using all sorts of methods, many of which critics say are based on unreliable information about school dropouts. Under No Child Left Behind, states may use their own methods of calculating graduation rates and set their own goals for improving them.