Rural states such as Iowa, Vermont and Nebraska are among the best at keeping kids in school until graduation — but other top performers include Texas, Tennessee and Missouri

Stephanie Simon:

“This is really, really good news,” said John Gomperts, the president of America’s Promise Alliance, a coalition of nonprofits, businesses and educators focused on raising the graduation rate. “For a country that can feel like it’s struggling to make progress, this is a pretty big story of positive change.”

Education Secretary Arne Duncan will discuss the data Monday morning at a “Building a Grad Nation” summit hosted by America’s Promise. The group released a report Monday detailing state-by-state performance, based on 2012 data.

But the strong national gains mask sharp disparities between states — and between groups of students.
In Nevada, fewer than one in four students with disabilities earns a high school diploma. In Montana, 81 percent do.

In Minnesota, just 59 percent of low-income students graduate, compared with 87 percent of their wealthier peers. The disparity between income groups is almost as big in Colorado, Connecticut, South Dakota and Wyoming.

Connecticut Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor noted that the state has made some progress: Graduation rates jumped more than 6 percent for low-income students in 2012. But that only brought them up to a 70 percent graduation rate — compared to a 94 percent rate for their more affluent peers. “There remains much more work to do,” Pryor said. To make up ground, the state is focusing on chronically absent students. It’s also pushing to expand choice by introducing more magnet and charter schools in a bid to keep more teenagers engaged.