Facts and insights about Texas public schools
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Graduation Rates Deserve Celebration

Anne Foster, executive director of Parents for Public Schools and a former school board member in Richardson ISD, provided this article:

Like high schools across the state and nation, North Texas campuses have finished graduation season. As a former school board member in one of those districts, I can say there was no more meaningful experience than handing out diplomas to bright-eyed students as they crossed the stage.

It is, after all, the moment of success — for the students, for their parents and families, for their high school and for their school district. It’s the end goal, the one that can lead to other goals, but the one that too many students never reach.

Over the past few decades, it was difficult to know what the graduation rates really were — as best we could tell they were dismal. They also were hard to track.

For example, students get “lost” when they drop out and then come back to a different school, or when they move around, or when they take longer than the norm to graduate. In addition, schools used vastly different tracking mechanisms, making it difficult to obtain consistent and solid data.

In 2008, the federal government created a new calculation system that has helped schools report data the same way and gain more consistency.

This year the news was good — graduation rates are up nationally 10 percent over the past decade. The improved rate, based on 2012 data, is 80 percent, a level not seen since the 1970s. Most of the gains have been made by black and Hispanic students, and it is encouraging to see the gap between minority and Anglo students decrease.

The progress results from intentional efforts that have hit the problem head on: There has been more of an awareness of the need to increase graduation rates. Schools have become more accountable for the numbers of students who graduate. They have worked one on one with students in danger of not graduating. Schools with the most challenges have been given additional support.

Although it will be challenging, hopes are high that by 2020, we will see the graduation rate at 90 percent, a goal set by America’s Promise, a group founded by former Secretary of State Colin Powell. It may take a focus on the social and emotional learning needs of students, as well as stronger parent engagement.

Other states could follow Texas’ lead on policy that gives school districts financial incentives to follow up with students who have been labeled dropouts. This policy may be why the graduation rate for low-income students in Texas is higher than the national average.

You didn’t hear the good news about improved graduation rates? I didn’t hear much fanfare about it either, and it got me to thinking: Have we become so accustomed to all the bad news we hear about our public schools that we aren’t even capable of hearing and receiving the good news?

So many people have joined in the chorus of “our failing schools” and are quick to point out the flaws — of students, teachers and schools. And yet we allow our public schools to take on all of the challenges of our society — poverty, bullying, children with incarcerated parents, children coming to school without speaking English, mobility — issues not created by schools but willingly absorbed by them.

Then instead of supporting and helping those schools, we criticize them, all the while not providing the necessary resources to do the job we ask of them. If we can’t celebrate good news like improved graduation rates, then it is we who are failing. Surely our schools deserve better than that.

This article also appeared in the Dallas Morning News on June 30, 2014.


July 1, 2014