- - Tuesday, November 27, 2012


@Text.rag.dropcap.FG:The share of District of Columbia public high school students who graduate within four years has increased to 56 percent, up 3 points from last year, according to data just released from the District’s Office of the State Superintendent of Education.

This more rigorous measure of high school graduation debuted last year. Before that, the District counted only how many 12th-graders graduated in any given year, regardless of their age. Now it follows each incoming eighth-grader through the end of the 12th grade to confirm whether the student graduated on time.

Taking a more thorough approach to ensuring that all of our children graduate from high school is essential for their futures. Urban youths cannot hope to become professional people unless they earn a college degree. Absent a high school diploma, they are unable to take even the first step to college.

Each failure to graduate from high school is a tragedy, both for the individuals who enter the adult world ill-equipped to care for themselves and their families, and for society, which pays a high price for this wasted potential.

High school dropouts aged 25 or older are more than 3 times as likely to be unemployed as college graduates, Department of Labor research reveals.

Adult men who fail to graduate from high school are 19 times more likely to be incarcerated than their college-educated peers, and 12 times more likely to serve time in prison, data from the U.S. Department of Justice and the College Board show.

Graduating urban youths is incredibly important. Friendship Collegiate Academy, one of six public charter school campuses and one of 11 urban campuses run by my organization, is a public charter high school in underserved Northeast Washington. Three in 4 of our students are eligible for federal lunch subsidies — a similar percentage to other public high schools east of the Anacostia River.

Critically, we have been able to change the trajectory that results in the potential of so many students in the District’s underserved neighborhoods being thrown away.

This year, our high school graduation rate is 91 percent — 35 percentage points higher than the average for the District’s traditional public high schools and 14 percentage points higher than the average for D.C. public charter high schools.

Ours is the only District open-enrollment public high school to graduate as high a share of our students with such a high proportion of low-income students. Of the six other public high schools to achieve graduation rates in the 90s, two are academically selective, three are specialist magnet high schools, and one is a public charter school with just 44 percent of its students from low-income families.

In fact, 35 percent of the students who earn a high school diploma in the District’s most underserved areas — Wards 7 and 8 — receive theirs from Friendship Collegiate Academy despite the fact that there are nine public high schools, traditional and charter, in those wards.

There is no magic formula to keep students on track for high school graduation and college. Still, certain financial, academic and mentoring resources routinely make successful high school and college careers possible for children enrolled at suburban public or private schools. It is essential to our efforts to provide these same resources to urban students who otherwise would not have them. Our charter status enables this.

We pioneered the use of academically rigorous Advanced Placement courses in the District, enabling our students to prepare for success at college and earn college credits in high school, many via our partnership with the University of Maryland.

About 43 percent of black students in the District who took the AP U.S. Government and Politics examination did so at Friendship Collegiate Academy last year. Of those who achieved a passing score, 59 percent were Collegiate students.

While 100 percent of our graduating class is accepted to college, we understand that many offers could not be taken if it weren’t for the $38 million Collegiate students have earned in college scholarships in the past four years.

By providing a mixture of the various supports required for any student to be successful, we build tenacity in youngsters who easily could give up or succumb to the streets.

It is often necessary for us to walk the extra mile. That sometimes means addressing deep-rooted emotional difficulties or providing scholarships for student athletes who cannot access college any other way. It means offering internships at our community office for scholars at college who must work during the summer to pay their bills.

We must work every angle to get our children to college.

Donald L. Hense is founder and chairman of Friendship Public Charter School.

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