Hispanics, graduation, and the Common Core

Public education professionals often complain that the media paints too negative a picture on the state of our schools, and data usually plays a central role in the presentation of the bad news. Thus, when there’s good news, it’s critical that the data community make sure people hear about the countless successes our public schools produce.

I am thrilled to be able highlight legitimately great news. Fewer students are dropping out, and more are finishing high school. In 2012, the on-time graduation rate jumped above 80 percent for the first time. The gains happened in all demographic groups but were most pronounced among Hispanic students. The Latino graduation rate is up 10 percentage points over the past 10 years, the dropout rate down a whopping 18 percentage points.

(image courtesy of 538)

538 mentions the reporting requirements of No Child Left Behind as a potential reason why Hispanic students are succeeding at higher levels. Minority communities have been consistent supporters of NCLB because the law demanded that schools focus not just on the performance of the whole student body but also on the performance of traditionally under-performing “subgroups.” As 538 points out, a variety of factors are likely responsible for Hispanic graduation gains, but the increased attention NCLB demanded schools give them is probably one of them.

NCLB can also allay the fear that increases in the difficulty of standards and testing will drive up dropout rates. The Common Core’s ambitious learning goals have raised those fears, just as NCLB’s ambitious testing and reporting requirements raised those fears ten year ago. In trying to increase the rigor of K-12 classes, will we make school so difficult that more kids will grow discouraged and drop out? High school graduation is a critical goal to pursue in of itself. According to the National Dropout Prevention Center, high school dropouts are four times more likely to be unemployed and make $143 per week less than graduates. Fortunately, the results 538 highlights suggests that increasing testing requirements need not necessarily harm graduation.

More importantly, more young adults are earning that extra $143 dollars per week today than at any other time in recorded history. We should celebrate them and their alma maters. The United States has made tremendous strides in both ensuring students complete K-12 education and narrowing the Achievement Gap

Elizabeth Fuqua