America’s high school graduation rate lags behind other developed nations: Why? 

By Riley Quigley

Staff Writer

According to the National Center of Education and the Economy, as of 2017, high school graduation in the United States was at 83%. That number might sound high, but, compared to other developed countries, it’s actually one of the lowest. For example, Finland’s graduation rate is at 99%, with Japan, New Zealand, South Korea and the Netherlands also above 90%. The worldwide average is 86%, 3% more than the national average of the United States. This begs some questions: Why is the high school dropout rate in America so high? How can we fix it?

For one, race seems to play a factor. Black and Hispanic youth are more likely than non-Hispanic white or Asian youth to have dropped out of high school. This could be due to the fact that these racial groups are more likely to be affected by poverty or systematic incarceration

Gender is also important. Men aged 16-24 are 2% more likely to be high school dropouts than women of the same age group. Although men are roughly half the population, they are 59% of the high school dropouts. However, this has been a recent change; before the 1980s, women were more likely to drop out than men. 

Further, teen pregnancy is also an indicator of likelihood to graduate. One in ten American girls are expected to have a child before the age of 20. The NCSL states, “Only about half of teen mothers earn a high school diploma by age 22, compared to 90% of women without a teen birth.” Additionally, children born to teen mothers are more likely to drop out than children born to two adult parents. 

Equally importantly, undocumented students aren’t graduating at the same rates as citizens. As of 2012, there were 3.2 million undocumented students in American school systems. According to a stat sheet from San Diego University, “Among undocumented youths ages 18-24, 40% have less than a high school education compared to 8% for U.S.-born counterparts.”

Additionally, juvenile detainees are not going back to school. An article from The Atlantic states, “According to the Justice Department’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, approximately 48,000 American kids were incarcerated in a private, state, or federal residential facility in 2015.” Out of those kids, more than two thirds never return to school. 

Certain states are also pulling down the national average. In New Mexico, for example, the 2017 graduation rate was 71.1%. This is almost 20% behind the nationwide leader, Iowa. New Mexico is also one of the poorest states as of 2017, with one in four New Mexicans living below the poverty line. 

Many students drop out because they’ve been absent the whole school year, often because of an inability to get to school. According to the California Department of Education, “The 2017–18 statewide chronic absenteeism rate of 11.1% increased from 10.8% in 2016–17.” A student is considered chronically absent if they miss more than 10% of school. Students are becoming less likely to attend school, and their grades are slipping as a result. 

Drug use is also a reason that students dropout of high school. JustThinkTwice, a government issued program to combat drug abuse, states, “Teens who abuse drugs have lower grades, a higher rate of absence from school and other activities, and an increased potential for dropping out of school.” Additionally, they cite a study that shows a third of high school dropouts say drug use was involved in their decision.

So how can we increase graduation rates on a statewide or national level? Former Californian State Superintendent Tom Torlakson stated in a press release, “There are many reasons a student can fall into a pattern .. beyond their control such as an illness, watching a younger sibling while a parent works, caregiving for an older relative, or lack of a reliable ride, or convenient bus route to school.” Torlakson added, “When we identify these challenges, we can link students and their families to all appropriate school and community resources.”

In 2012, the superintendent of Fresno Unified School District started a graduation task force to help deal with low graduation rates. Since then, Fresno’s graduation rate has jumped from 69.2% to 85.4%. Among Latinos, those numbers jumped from 64.7% to 85.6%. Both the average graduation rate and Latino graduation rate now surpass the state average. 

Summit Public Schools has also seen success in achieving a high graduation rate through the improvement of community resources. Summit Public Schools: Rainer has a 88% graduation rate and Summit Public Schools: Tahoma has a graduation rate between 80% and 89%. To achieve this, Summit Public Schools has implemented community resources like goal setting, one-on-one check-ins with mentors, and personalized learning designed to meet the needs and pacing of the student.

FEATURED IMAGE (at top of page): The U.S. high school graduation rate is lower than many other countries. PHOTO CREDIT: Riley Quigley

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