America's Newest High School Graduates Earn Diplomas, Celebrate Individual Achievements
SEATTLE -- As high school graduates are honored in communities across America for their accomplishments this spring, rising graduation rates are just one indicator of the success of thousands of high schools nationwide where students, regardless of income or ethnicity, are preparing for their next step in life.
The nationwide graduation rate inched up to 70.6 percent in 2005, the latest year for which data are available, as reported in the recently released Education Week's Diplomas Count 2008. The report also finds that African American students saw the largest increase in graduation rates of any minority group. From 2001 to 2005, America's overall graduation rate increased 2.6 percentage points.
"We join the family and friends of the class of 2008 in congratulating them on their academic achievement," said Vicki Phillips, director of Education at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. "Students can make dramatic progress when schools insist on high standards and provide strong support for the work teachers and students do in the classroom."
Despite the encouraging graduation rate increase, far too many young people will still not graduate ready for the challenges of college or the workforce. It is estimated that 1.2 million students who started high school with the class of 2008 will not graduate this year.
Working with partners in 47 states and the District of Columbia, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is supporting promising initiatives across America that are redefining the high school experience and working to prepare more students for college, career, and life:
- KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) graduated its first-ever high school class this year in Houston. Ninety-six percent of the graduating seniors at KIPP Houston High School are headed to college in the fall. There are currently 66 KIPP public schools nationwide; seven are high schools.
- At University High School of Science and Engineering, in Hartford, Conn., 100 percent of the first senior class earned diplomas this year, and 80 percent of the graduates are headed to four-year colleges or universities. Students from the greater Hartford area are drawn to University High for its college-level coursework and college-going culture. It is a school model developed through the Early College High School Initiative (ECHSI), which allows traditionally underserved students to graduate with a high school diploma and one to two years worth of college credit. To date, ECHSI organizations have opened nearly 160 early colleges in 24 states and the District of Columbia. Ultimately, about 250 early college high schools will serve over 100,000 students each year.
- In New York City, 93 of the new small schools opened since 2002 will graduate classes this year, sending thousands of graduates into the world better prepared for college, career, and life. At the Bronx Lab School, where students are challenged with a rigorous liberal arts college preparatory experience, approximately 90 percent of the school's first class is on track to graduate. Additionally, nearly 85 percent of seniors passed the Math A and Global Studies Regents exams before the end of their sophomore year. Five Bronx Lab graduates are headed to college—at Middlebury, Depauw, Trinity, Brandeis, and Lafayette—on four-year scholarships from the Posse Foundation.
- In Texas, all seniors at IDEA College Preparatory have been accepted to four-year colleges and universities, including Tufts, Baylor, Case Western Reserve, and Texas A&M. The class of 2008 is 94 percent Hispanic, and 71 percent of seniors will be the first in their families to enroll in college. Similarly, for the eighth year in a row, 100 percent of the graduating classes at five YES Prep campuses in Houston have been accepted to four-year colleges. IDEA and YES schools recently held college acceptance celebrations, where students signed their matriculation letters in front of family and friends.
- The first group of DC Achiever Scholars—194 students in Washington, D.C., who were selected to receive college scholarships and application support—graduated from high school in our nation's capital. The vast majority of these students are the first members of their families to go on to college.
- At San Diego's Met School, all 51 members of the first graduating senior class will attend college in the fall, including schools like Dartmouth, UC Berkeley, and Spelman. Opened in 2004, the Met is an alternative high school that offers small classes and a personalized curriculum centered around internships with local businesses. Students also are required to enroll in college classes. Part of The Big Picture Co., a nationwide network of alternative high schools, the Met serves a predominantly low-income and minority student population and has met state and federal targets for academic growth.
- In Denver, all 79 seniors in the first graduating class at the Denver School of Science and Technology have been accepted into four-year colleges, and nearly half of them will be the first in their families to attend college. DSST is a public charter school serving a diverse student body with a math and science curriculum. It is part of a growing national network of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) schools that encourages problem solving, critical thinking, and creativity through a project-based, interdisciplinary curriculum.
- At Withrow University High School in Cincinnati, Ohio, 98 percent of seniors graduated on time. Altogether the 171 students in the Class of 2008 have earned $2.5 million in scholarships and more than 80 percent of them have been accepted into their college of choice. This is the third graduating class since the high school was transformed from a traditional comprehensive high school into a college preparatory school in the fall of 2002.
Unfortunately, these exemplary schools remain the exception rather than the rule in America. Too many students are still trapped in schools that don’t offer rigorous, high-quality learning experiences. African-American and Hispanic students are particularly at risk and graduate at a lower rate than average—55 and 58 percent, respectively. Leaving high school is a costly decision. Dropouts can expect to earn a million dollars less over a lifetime, compared to the average earnings of a college graduate, according to the College Board.
"Improving our education system requires strong leadership from the White House to the schoolhouse and a commitment to solutions rather than soundbites," said Roy Romer, former governor of Colorado and chair of Ed in '08, a nonpartisan public awareness and advocacy effort focused on making education reform a top national priority. "We know what works. To be successful, every school needs a strong set of common standards, effective teachers in the classroom, and more time for students to learn."
In recent years, local, state, and national leaders have taken important steps to strengthen how our school systems prepare young people for success after high school. Thirty-three states have made a commitment to align standards, graduation requirements, assessments, and accountability policies with the demands of college and career by joining the American Diploma Project. However, more work remains. Only four states—Arizona, Delaware, Florida, and Utah—have taken all the necessary steps to update their data systems to track students, identify those at risk of dropping out, and accurately report graduation rates, according to the Data Quality Campaign. Similar data system improvements are underway in several other states.
Nationally, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and its partners are pursuing efforts designed to increase graduation and college-readiness rates. Since 2000, the foundation has invested more than $1.9 billion in more than 1,800 schools.