High school graduation rates rose both nationally and in Ohio, according to comprehensive 2015-16 data released last week, but concerns remain about the number of students not graduating, and about graduation rates for black students in Ohio.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the nation’s four-year graduation rate for public high school students rose by 1 percent for the fifth straight year, to an all-time high of 84.1 percent.
Ohio’s graduation rate also rose, to 83.5 percent for the Class of 2016, placing Ohio 29th of 50 states and just below the national average. State graduation rates vary for a number of reasons, including different requirements on what courses and tests students have to pass to earn a diploma.
Ohio has been embroiled in a graduation debate for the past few years, as lawmakers and state education officials approved new, tougher tests and standards for the Class of 2018, then softened them last summer when it appeared the graduation rate might drop.
Now current high school seniors (the Class of 2018) have alternative routes to a diploma that include good attendance, community service hours and senior projects, as long as they pass their classes. Some say that doesn’t demand enough of students. But as anti-testing momentum grows, the state school board today will debate whether to recommend extending those options to the class of 2019 and beyond.
Ohio among worst at graduating black pupils
For the fourth straight year, Ohio’s four-year graduation rate for black students at public high schools was among the six lowest states in the nation, according to the NCES data.
Ohio saw 67.3 percent of black students graduate in the Class of 2016, ranking us 45th of 50 states, and 9 percentage points behind the national average of 76.4 percent. That’s actually an improvement over Ohio’s 59.7 percent graduation rate for black students in 2014-15, which ranked us 49th of 50 states, and 15 percentage points behind the national rate of 74.6 percent.
Hashim Jabar, interim executive director of Racial Justice Now, said the problem can be traced to several systemic issues starting at the preschool level. He mentioned disproportionate punishment of black students, a lack of black teachers and neighborhood-resident teachers in majority-black schools, as well as unconstitutional state funding that results in schools like Dayton Public receiving less money than the state formula calls for.
“With property taxes being a major part of the formula, that disproportionately affects cities like Cincinnati, Cleveland and Dayton, those poorer areas,” Jabar said. “There’s a correlation to these systemic issues. Students in these schools are not receiving the same education that’s received in the suburbs of Dayton. They get lesser education, lesser funding and lesser services, despite having a stronger need.”
Ohio Department of Education officials could not immediately be reached for comment Monday.
The NCES data showed a clear bright spot — the national graduation rate improved for every subgroup of students – white, black, Hispanic, low-income, students with disabilities, English as a second-language students, and others.
From 2011-16, the national graduation rate increased by about 9 points for black students, to 76 percent, and by about 8 points for Hispanic and low-income students, to 79 and 78 percent, respectively. White students’ graduation rate rose from 84 to 88 percent in that span.
But the organizations leading the GradNation campaign said not enough progress is being made toward their goal of a 90 percent national graduation rate by 2020. They called for a sense of urgency “from the kitchen table to the schoolhouse to the highest reaches of corporations and government.”
“We must continue to be alarmed by the persistent and remaining gaps among various subgroups of students. While we are glad to see the rate of increase among the key subgroups, the progress is not sufficient,” the GradNation group said in a statement. “In today’s world, young people who don’t graduate from high school have virtually no chance to find a job with a family supporting wage. The nation simply can’t afford this waste of talent.”