Reaching 90 percent high school graduation rate by 2020

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Reaching 90 percent high school graduation rate by 2020

A recent briefing from Grad Nation marked the release of the 2018 Building a Grad Nation: Progress and Challenge in Raising High School Graduation Rates. The report provides an update on the Grad Nation mission of a 90 percent on-time high school graduation rate for the class of 2020. Examining the 2015-2016 graduating senior class, the new report shows that the nation has made significant headway since 2011, when no state had yet achieved the 90 percent graduation rate goal. Now, 25 states have reported a graduation rate above 85 percent, while Iowa and New Jersey have reached the 90 percent goal.

While the report shows progress, Dr. Bob Balfanz, director of the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University School of Education noted during the briefing that states cannot “coast to 90 percent,” and emphasized that increased support to special populations of students – such as students with disabilities, English language learners, students of color, and students from low-income families – may be the key to reaching 90 percent by 2020.

Both the report and the briefing began by outlining the disparities in the graduation rates of these special populations of students. At 66 percent and 67 percent high school graduation rates, students with disabilities and English language learners have the lowest graduation rates of any special populations. While there have been gains in the graduation rates of black and Hispanic students over the last five years, there is still a substantial gap in the graduation rates of these students compared to their white peers. This gap also persists between the graduation rates for students from low-income families compared to their peers from more affluent families. Breaking down these gaps and understanding what supports students need to succeed is the next step to minimizing these disparities.

Diving into these issues, Deycy Hernandez, director of Promesa Boyle Heights in Los Angeles, Calif., spoke to the needs of the growing number of Hispanic students in her community. With high populations of English language learners, providing adequate language supports, tutoring, and wrap-around services to families is critical to reach the 90 percent goal by 2020. The narrative presented by Hernandez is common and made only more evident by the numbers of Hispanic students that do not graduate high school on time, but every community is different. Understanding individual community and students needs is key to providing the supports needed to reach 90 percent.

Throughout the briefing, Dr. Balfanz outlined the many reasons that students drop out of high school, including falling behind in school or not seeing the connection to the workforce or college, and pointed out that directly addressing these concerns for students is vital to keeping them in school. The full report provides multiple recommendations for addressing these problems, such as aligning diploma requirements with college and career standards, strengthening the transition from high school to college and careers, creating state-specific high school graduation plans, and promoting policies that reduce the education disparities for special populations of students.

Toward the end of the briefing, prompted by a question from Camp Fire (an out-of-school time program provider) the panelists noted the importance of out-of-school time learning opportunities and other out-of-school supports in keeping students on track to graduation. High-quality afterschool programs can help support students’ academic performance and social and emotional learning, as well as connecting the importance of a high school education to future college and career ambitions. These types of programs are especially important for the special populations of students highlighted throughout the Grad Nation 2018 report. Programs like 21st Century Community Learning Centers, which specifically provide out-of-school time supports for students from low-income communities, have been shown to be particularly effective in improving the academic outcomes of their students compared to their non-participating peers.

While the country and Grad Nation reaching the goal of a 90 percent graduation rate by 2020 remains to be seen, support for afterschool programs can help close the gaps. Read the full Grad Nation 2018 report today and check out the many ways that afterschool programs support students on their way to graduation!

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