State’s graduation rates not what people thought

Startling, stunning and shocking! Those are three words I heard constantly as Minnesotans have started to discuss a new federal report.

It shows Minnesota is tied with several other states, ranking 29th in the United States for high school graduation. Our overall rate was 77 percent. Iowa ranked first with 88 percent. Wisconsin and Vermont tied for second. They graduated 87 percent on time.

We’re used to thinking of ourselves as in the top four or five. Not true now, according to the latest figures published by the U.S. Department of Education. They showed the percentage of students, overall, and broken into various categories, for youngsters who entered high school four years in the school year 2007–08 and should have graduated four years later, in the 2010–11 school year.

One of the most surprising statistics involves white students. Minnesota is tied with Arkansas and Maine for 24th. Eighty-four percent of our white students graduated from high school in four years. Many others, including our neighbors, did better. South Dakota’s white student graduation rate was 89 percent. Iowa and North Dakota had 90 percent. Wisconsin’s four-year graduation rate for white students was 91 percent.

Many states also are doing better in graduating students of color. Minnesota has one of the nation’s largest gaps between white and African-American, white and Hispanic/Latino, and white and American Indian/Native American students. In Minnesota, only 42 percent of Native American youngsters, 49 percent of African-American and 51 percent of Hispanic/Latino students graduated in four years. Wisconsin reported 75 percent of Native American students, 64 percent of African-American, and 72 percent of Hispanic/Latino students graduate on time.

Forty-five states have higher graduation rates of African-American students than Minnesota.

Seventy-two percent of Minnesota’s Asian-Pacific students graduated in four years. That also is a lower figure than in many other states, but the gap is not nearly as wide as for other racial groups.

Enough numbers, right? You can look at the report for yourself here:

The U.S. Department of Education says the statistics are based on data provided by state departments of education and that the numbers are preliminary.  Perhaps there will be adjustments. Nevertheless, we can’t be complacent.

These statistics don’t tell us what to do. They do suggest an urgent need to examine what we are doing. That does not mean we should be getting into a blame/shame game.  Whether a person advocates more money, high quality early childhood, extended school year, chartered public schools, character education, greater use of technology and personalized learning, more respect for educators, etc., I think this is not a time for finger pointing. It’s a time for careful pondering. What are the most important steps forward?

Research and experience do not suggest any single solution. In coming weeks, I’ll discuss possible priorities for the 2013 Minnesota Legislature, for community groups, educators, unions, families, students and others who care about the state’s future. But for today, I’d urge readers to consider these statistics. — Joe Nathan (Editor’s note: Nathan is formerly a Minnesota public school teacher and administrator. He now directs the Center for School Change. Reactions are welcome at [email protected] and [email protected])