WASHINGTON – Seventeen of the nation’s 50 largest cities had high school graduation rates lower than 50 percent, with the lowest graduation rates reported in Detroit, Indianapolis and Cleveland, according to a report released today.
The report, issued by America’s Promise Alliance, found that about half of the students served by public school systems in the nation’s largest cities receive diplomas. Students in suburban and rural public high schools were more likely to graduate than their counterparts in urban public high schools, the researchers said.
Nationally, about 70 percent of students graduate on time with a regular diploma, and about 1.2 million students drop out annually.
“When more than 1 million students a year drop out of high school, it’s more than a problem – it’s a catastrophe,” said former Secretary of State Colin Powell, founding chairman of the alliance.
His wife, Alma Powell, chairwoman of the alliance, said students need to graduate with skills that will help them in higher education and beyond. “We must invest in the whole child, and that means finding solutions that involve the family, the school and the community.”
The group, joining Education Secretary Margaret Spellings at a news conference today, was announcing plans to hold summits in every state during the next two years on ways to better prepare students for college and the work force.
The report found troubling data on the prospects of urban public high school students getting to college. In Detroit’s public schools, 24.9 percent of the students graduated from high school, while 30.5 percent graduated in Indianapolis Public Schools and 34.1 percent received diplomas in the Cleveland Municipal City School District.
Many metropolitan areas also showed a considerable gap in the graduation rates between their inner-city schools and the surrounding suburbs. Researchers found, for example, that 81.5 percent of the public school students in Baltimore’s suburbs graduate, compared with 34.6 percent in the city schools.
In Ohio, nearly 83 percent of public high school students in suburban Columbus graduate while 78.1 percent in suburban Cleveland earn their diplomas, well above their local city schools.
Ohio Department of Education spokesman Scott Blake said the state delays its estimates by a few months so it can include summer graduates. He said Columbus graduated 60.6 percent of its students in 2003-2004, rather than the 40.9 percent the study calculated.
By Ohio’s reckoning, Columbus has improved each year since the 2001-2002 school year, with 72.9 percent of students graduating in 2005-2006, Columbus Public Schools spokesman Jeff Warner said.
Warner said the gains were partly because of after-school and weekend tutoring, coordinated literacy programs in the district’s elementary schools and bolstered English-as-a-second-language programs.
Spellings has called for requiring states to provide graduation data in a more uniform way under the renewal of the No Child Left Behind law pending in Congress.
The research was conducted by Editorial Projects in Education, a Bethesda, Md., nonprofit organization, with support from America’s Promise Alliance and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.