While high school dropout rates continue at epidemic levels in American high schools, recent research suggests that change may be in sight. A new report from America’s Promise Alliance, titled, “Building a Grad Nation,” provides evidence that trends in high school graduation rates may be improving. Overall, the high school graduation rate nationwide rose from 72 percent in 2002 to 75 percent in 2008. This trend has been fueled by multiple factors, including the concurrent 13 percent decrease in the number of “dropout factory” high schools nationwide. These schools, defined by graduation rates of 60 percent or less, produce half of the nation’s dropouts each year. Also encouraging is the distribution of improvement across states. While a few states with improvement rates as high as 15 percent are in part responsible for the rising national average, more than half the states (29 in total) also reported significant improvements, and only three states experienced noticeable declines. This distribution suggests a nationwide movement toward improving education outcomes.
Ohio’s performance in the report was somewhat mixed. The state ranked 32nd out of 50 in progress toward improving high school graduation rates. The state reported a 1.5 percent increase in the high school graduation rate, bringing the rate to 79 percent in 2008. While this is slightly above the national average of 75 percent, it is still an unacceptably low graduation rate, particularly when compared to other Midwestern states (e.g. Wisconsin) which boasted a graduation rate of almost 90 percent in 2008. An encouraging trend, however, is found in Ohio’s success in improving or eliminating dropout factory high schools. Ohio, which reported a net decrease of 12 dropout schools (from 75 in 2002 to 68 in 2008), was one of the top seven states reporting significant decreases in dropout factory high schools.
Despite this trend toward improvement, however, the authors of the “Building a Grad Nation” are only cautiously optimistic, and emphasize the importance of continued efforts to improve graduation rates in successful states and increased attention to states in which dropout rates remain high.