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Grad Nation report highlights challenges, solutions towards a 90% graduation rate

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Grad Nation report highlights challenges, solutions towards a 90% graduation rate

Photo by Charles DeLoye on Unsplash

A recent webinar from Grad Nation, Building a Grad Nation: Meet the Moment 2020!, marked the release of their report, A Grad Nation 2020: Progress and Challenge in Raising High School Graduation Rates. The annual report discusses recent progress and challenges towards reaching the goal of a national on-time graduation rate of 90 percent by the Class of 2020. The report found that in 2018, the country reached an all-time high graduation rate of 85.3 percent, with gains primarily driven by improvements among underserved students—Black, Hispanic, low-income, and students with disabilities have all made larger gains compared to the national average. That said, as we find ourselves in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and facing the effects of longstanding systemic racism, crucial work still needs to be done. The webinar discussed that students who primarily drove the graduation rate increases are the ones most impacted by COVID-19 and racial injustice. A greater percentage of Black and Hispanic students are learning remotely; low income students are more likely to lack reliable technology and internet access; students with disabilities are missing out on the full services needed; and overall these students are more likely to lack support from counselors and other support systems.

While the report shows that the numbers to reach the 90 percent goal are manageable, the magnitude of the challenge varies by state, and equity needs to be achieved across subgroups. Because of over 100 years of segregation and the high poverty districts this created, much of the challenge in reaching the 90 percent goal is concentrated in a small subset of school districts. In fact, the report states that 50 percent of the students who did not graduate in four years are found in just four percent of school districts; these numbers are even smaller when looking at Black and Hispanic students who did not graduate.

The question then becomes, what is the plan to achieve this goal as we move out of COVID-19? The report provides multiple recommendations for addressing the problems, such as aligning diploma requirements with college and career standards, creating state-specific high school graduation plans, addressing the social, emotional, and academic gaps exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, increasing the use of early warning systems, and expanding the capacity of evidence-based nonprofits that can support these efforts.

As the report mentions, schools cannot face the dropout challenge alone, and community-based nonprofits can provide additional support to schools to help boost achievement, graduation, and overall college and career readiness. Thus, it is recommended that public and private funding go to nonprofits that have the most capacity to meet school needs, and have the strongest evidence of success in increasing student achievement and high school graduation rates.

Afterschool programs can support these efforts. As we know, students who regularly participate in high quality afterschool programs are more likely to graduate on time. Afterschool programs help address many of the factors that contribute to students dropping out of high school that were discussed throughout the webinar—they help support students’ academic performance, social and emotional learning, school behaviors and work habits, and attitudes towards school. Many programs also provide intentional college and career readiness support. Afterschool programs, and particularly 21st Century Community Learning Centers that provide supports specifically for low-income students, are especially important for the underserved populations mentioned in the report, the ones most impacted by COVID-19. During these unprecedented times, afterschool programs have stepped up to support students most in need, and moving forward they will be a key part in continuing to address the gaps created by the pandemic.

The webinar concluded with two panels: a youth panel in which two students reflected on their high school experiences and called for a greater focus on relationships and social and emotional support to help reach the graduation milestone, and a panel of three former secretaries of education, who discussed the federal role in promoting equity in schools. Unsurprisingly, there was strong consensus among all three former federal leaders that we need to invest more in our students that need it the most. Support for afterschool programs, and particularly 21st Century Community Learning Centers, are one such investment that can help close the gaps and reach the eventual goal of 90 percent on-time graduation.

Read the full 2020 report here and check out how 21st Century Community Learning Centers positively impact factors that are integral to school engagement and graduation!

Help us tell the story of afterschool AND win a chance at a cash prize

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BY: Erin Hegarty      05/26/20

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BY: Bella DiMarco      05/20/20

New issue brief: Afterschool fostering protective factors

In Colorado, the Montrose Recreation District’s Summer Enrichment Program creates a welcoming environment to help students feel safe to share their feelings. At Jóvenes de Puerto Rico en Riesgo, Inc. (JPRR), also known as Puerto Rico Youth at Risk (PRYR), one-on-one...

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