High school graduation rate up sharply, but red flags abound

Stephanie Simon:

For the first time in decades, the United States is making steady gains in the number of high school students earning diplomas, putting it on pace to reach a 90 percent graduation rate by 2020, according to a new analysis released Monday.
But the good news comes with a big asterisk: students with learning disabilities and limited fluency in English face long odds to finish high school, with graduation rates for those groups as low as 25 percent in some states, the analysis found. Minority students also continue to fall well behind their white peers, with about one-third of African-American students and 29 percent of Hispanic students dropping out before graduation.
The “Building a Grad Nation” report – which was co-authored by Robert Balfanz, a leading scholar of dropout rates at Johns Hopkins University – found strong improvements in graduation rates in a diverse collection of states including Tennessee, Louisiana, Alaska, California, Texas and New York. The national graduation rate jumped from 71.7 percent in 2001 to 78.2 percent in 2010, with the pace of improvement accelerating in the past few years.
“For the first time in 40 years, we have seen significant, sustained improvement,” said John Bridgeland, a co-author of the study and the chief executive of Civic Enterprises, a public policy group in Washington, D.C.