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10 Facts About Low-Graduation-Rate High Schools

This article is part of the “90 for All” series, which examines the challenges facing traditionally underserved students, particularly low-income students, English-language learners, students of color and students with disabilities.

Even as the nation reaches an all-time record graduation rate of 82.3 percent, low-graduation-rate high schools – a key focus of the recently passed Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) – pose a significant roadblock to the national goal of a 90 percent graduation rate for all students.

The 2016 Building a Grad Nation report released this month provides an in-depth look at low-graduation-rate high schools, defined as schools that enroll 100 or more students and graduate less than 67 percent of them. While there is a great deal of variability by state and district, too often students at these schools are traditionally underserved.

“As the number of low-grad-rate schools grows in some states, it is necessary to take a closer look at when and where these schools are part of the solution or a wrong turn on the path to 90 percent graduation rates for all students,” added Jennifer DePaoli, senior education advisor at Civic Enterprises and the report’s lead author. 

Here are the facts:

  1. There were 2,397 low-graduation-rate high schools in the U.S. in 2014, enrolling a total of 1.23 million students.
  1. Nationwide, 33 percent of all non-graduates in 2014 were enrolled in high schools with a graduation rate of 67 percent or less.
  1. More than half (54 percent) of all low-graduation-rate high schools are in cities, one-quarter (26 percent) are in suburbs, 8 percent are in towns, and 12 percent are in rural areas.
  1. The number of low-graduation-rate high schools varies widely by state, from 1 each in Maine and West Virginia to 203 in Florida and 276 in New York.
  1. There are 12 states (AK, NM, FL, AZ, GA, NV, CO, OR, NY, DE, WA, ID) where low-graduation-rate high schools make up 20 percent or more of all high schools in the state. In Alaska and New Mexico, low-graduation-rate high schools are 40 percent or more of all high schools in the state.

Percentage of High Schools with ACGR  67 Percent or Less

  1. The number of students coming from low-graduation-rate high schools also varies a great deal by state. In Alaska and Ohio, for example, more than half of non-graduates came from the state’s low-graduation-rate schools. In Hawaii, Maine, North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia, 5 percent or less of non-graduates came from low-graduation-rate schools.
  1. Students of color are overrepresented in large, low-graduation-rate high schools. Of the roughly 924,000 students in large, low-graduation-rate high schools (with 300 or more students), 65 percent were from low-income families, and 63 percent were African American or Hispanic/Latino.
  1. In 15 states, African American students made up more than 40 percent of all students in large, low-graduation-rate schools. Four of these states – MD, MI, TN, VA – had African American student populations of 75 percent or more in these high schools.
  1. In nine states (CA, CO, CN, IA, MA, NV, NJ, NY, RI), Hispanic/Latino students made up more than 40 percent of all students in large, low-graduation-rate schools.
  1. In 41 states, low-income students made up more than 40 percent of students in large, low-graduation-rate schools – and in 12 of those states, enrollment of low-income students was greater than 75 percent.

Students in Large High Schools with ACGR of 67 Percent or LessESSA requires that states intervene in schools graduating less than 67 percent of students and use evidence-based plans to make improvements.

“Many of these schools exist to serve a vulnerable student population, and therefore deal with significant challenges,” said Robert Balfanz, research scientist and co-director of the Everyone Graduates Center at the Johns Hopkins University School of Education.

“That’s why it’s so important that educators identify struggling students at the beginning of their high school careers and provide the things all students need to be successful,” Balfanz continued, “including the chance to build relationships with caring adults, strong and tailored instruction, and opportunities to engage in learning experiences that connect school to life.”

For more information, read the 2016 Building a Grad Nation Report and check out Appendix J.

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