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Education Reporter

25% of Students Fail to Graduate
NEW YORK, NY - A ground-breaking new report by the Manhattan Institute and the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO), called High School Graduation Rates in the United States, shows that more than one-fourth of all public school students from the class of 1998 failed to graduate from high school. The report was issued Nov. 13 and reveals that nearly half of African-American and Latino students drop out, as do significant numbers of white students in many school districts throughout the country.

The report shows that the national graduation rate for the class of 1998 was 74%. Graduation rates were 78% for whites, 56% for African-Americans and 54% for Latino students. Research on graduation rates for the individual states shows considerable variation in both overall rates and on the rates for each racial/ethnic group.

Researchers obtained sufficient data to calculate graduation percentages for 37 states for 1998. Iowa had the highest overall rate (93%), along with the highest percentage of white graduates (95%). Wisconsin and North Dakota ranked second and third overall with an 87% graduation rate, but Wisconsin had the worst rate for African-American graduates at 40%. Georgia came in last with an overall graduation rate of 57%, and Georgia also had the lowest graduation rates for white students (61%) and Latino students (32%). Tennessee had the second-lowest rate overall with 59%.

West Virginia had the highest graduation rate for African-American students at 71%, followed by Massachusetts (70%) and Arkansas (67%). Montana had the highest Latino graduation rate (82%), followed by Louisiana and Maryland, each with 70%.

Researchers also studied 1998 graduation rates for the nation's 50 largest school districts. Cleveland, Ohio (38th-largest of the 50 districts evaluated) had the lowest overall rate with only 28% of students receiving a diploma in 1998. Public schools in Albuquerque, New Mexico, ranked highest with an overall graduation rate of 83%, followed by Anne Arundel County Public Schools in Maryland at 71%. Among the nation's largest school districts, New York City had just 54% of students graduating in 1998, while Los Angeles had 56% and the Chicago School District had a 47% graduation rate.

The BAEO commissioned the Manhattan Institute study when it was unable to obtain accurate information on dropout rates for black students. In the report's foreword, BAEO President and CEO Kaleem Caire writes that U.S. Department of Education officials admitted using inflated figures for black students earning high school diplomas because, "in addition to students who actually graduated, their data included recipients of so-called high school 'equivalency' diplomas." Department officials also explained that "the federal government stopped reporting on the number of 9th-graders that completed high school in four years because it painted 'too bad a picture of productivity of the nation's public schools.'"

According to Education Week (1-24-01), a series of research reports issued last year indicate that "federal and state dropout data underestimate the number of students who drop out and overestimate the number who earn high school diplomas each year, especially minority students." These reports were commissioned by the Civil Rights Project at Har-vard, and Achieve Inc., a non-profit group based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

When the results came in, a spokesman for the Civil Rights Project described many urban schools as "dropout factories." The findings showed that the dropout problem is "most desperate" in 200 to 300 schools in 35 of the nation's larger cities.

Other research demonstrates that students are entering high school ill-prepared to do the work. A Philadelphia study in 1999-2000 found that 20% of the city's 9th-graders "received F's in core courses," with 40% passing only half their courses. The report suggested that students with such difficulties are candidates for dropping out. A study of nearly 3,000 Philadelphia 9th-graders beginning in 1996 showed that only 46% of them graduated four years later, and that 2/3 of the dropouts had failed in the 9th grade.

The BAEO believes "it is unacceptable that Black America's long-held goal of racial and ethnic diversity among our nation's economic and political leadership is undermined by the massive failure of our young people to graduate from high school."

"Reviewing the findings of [the Manhattan Institute] report," states Caire in the foreword, "including the horrific graduation rates in such cities as Cleveland and Milwaukee - it is no wonder why parents there have led the fight for education vouchers and other new educational options for their children."

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