Tuesday, April 1, 2008

A teenager living in one of the nation’s 50 largest cities has about a 50 percent chance of graduating high school, a new report finds.

“Our analysis finds that graduating from high school in America’s largest cities amounts, essentially, to a coin toss,” stated the report, which is being highlighted today by America’s Promise Alliance (APA), a national collaborative supporting the well-being of children and youths.

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings also is expected to make an announcement today about high school graduation rates.

Only about 52 percent of students in the main school systems of the nation’s largest cities complete high school, according to today’s report, which was prepared by Editorial Projects in Education Research Center with help from APA and the Gates Foundation.

The same groups conducted a report last summer that found the national graduation rate was about 70 percent — lower than previously thought.

High school graduation rates have been a hot topic in recent years, and with the education community has sparred over how to measure them. A few years ago, the nation’s governors agreed on a common definition for their high school graduation rate, but implementation has been slow, said Marguerite Kondracke, APA’s president and CEO.

“This is a national crisis,” said Mrs. Kondracke, adding that the United States is at risk of losing its place as a world leader. The solution, she said, must involve everyone, from parents to businesses to schools, and must include added support for at-risk students, including mentors and after-school programs.

Today’s report used information from the Department of Education and calculated graduation rates for spring 2004 using a method that essentially tracked that class from the ninth grade on. The analysis focused on the largest or most central school district serving each city — termed “principal school districts” — but also examined surrounding metropolitan areas.

Findings for the principal school districts in the 50 cities ranged from a 77 percent graduation rate in Mesa, Ariz., to about a 25 percent graduation rate in Detroit, which was among four cities — Baltimore, Cleveland and Indianapolis were the others — that had average graduation rates under 40 percent. The District ranked roughly in the middle of the list, at 58 percent. The average graduation for all 50 areas was 51.8 percent.

To give a fuller picture, the report also examined urban-versus-suburban districts in each of the metropolitan areas. It found the suburban graduation rates were on average 17 percent higher than urban rates. The metropolitan areas with the sharpest urban-suburban gap were in the Northeast or Midwest, the report found. Baltimore and Columbus were the worst, according to the report.

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