Thursday, June 13, 2013

Graduation Rates in Minnesota: The Good, the Bad, and the Budget

Cross Posted from MN Political Roundtable:
The EPE Research Center, part of the non-profit Education Week came out with their latest report on our high school graduation rates.  The Report, Diplomas Count, noted this:
A new analysis of high school completion from the EPE Research Center, using its Cumulative Promotion Index method and  data from the U.S. Department of Education, finds that the national graduation rate for public schools stands at 74.7percent for the class of 2010, the most recent year for which data are available.
The new findings point to continued improvements for the nation. The graduation rate rose 1.9 percentage points from 2009 to 2010, marking the third straight year of increases following a period of stagnation and decline. 
At 74.7 percent, the nation’s graduation rate has reached its highest point since 1973.
Success among historically under-served groups drives national improvement.
The Good News nationally is.....we have had three years of improvement in a row, and seven out of ten years of improvement in the past decade.  The Bad News? We still have a long way to go, and there are still some shocking gaps in achievement by race and ethnicity, gender, and of course, affluence in the context of our extreme gap in wealth and income.

The Good News in Minnesota is that we are in the top ten states - specifically number 10 - for graduation rates.  Our white students have a pretty consistent rate of around 84%.

The Bad News is that for minorities we don't do so well, having one of the largest gaps in comparisons by state, and when it comes to our Native American students we're among the worst, not the best.
We personify that  opening line from A Tale of Two Cities, depending upon the accident of your birth (Bonus point if you know and can remember who the author is):
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope,it was the winter of despair.”
The EPE provides an interactive map that is quite informative, and easy to use for state to state comparisons.  You can find it here.

Besides showing we're 10th highest in graduation, the map app also shows that we have a 2.2% Native American student population, for example, and that the national average for states is 1.3%.  It shows we have a poverty rate, determined by free or subsidized lunches for students of   34.3%   compared to a poverty rate nationally of     46.6%.  And it shows that while the rest of the nation was improving in graduation rates, Minnesota actually went DOWN nearly 2%, between 2009 and 2010.

North Dakota, in comparison, was 2nd nationally, and has a Native American population of 9.4%; South Dakota is 24th in the nation for high school graduation, and has 12% Native American population.  Wisconsin is 3rd in graduation nationally; they have a 1.5% Native American student population.  Iowa is 4th nationally for high school graduation rates, and they have a 0.8% Native American student population.

So our five state area for the most part ranks well regionally, compared to the rest of the nation - except for South Dakota, but we aren't very competitive with NoDak over the border to the west, or the Cheeseheads to the east, or the Iowa cornhuskers to our south. To satisfy my curiosity about regional comparisons in graduation rates, I also checked out how the Canadians are doing over the border to the north - they're in the same general vicinity of performance.  We are around 80%, they're at 79%.
As this article from Reuters notes, the devil is in the details:
Even generally high-performing states such Wisconsin, Massachusetts and Connecticut have strikingly poor records with some minority students. Minnesota has the biggest gaps: The graduation rate for African-American and Hispanic students hovered around 50 percent in 2011, compared to 84 percent for white students.
"We need to look at these disparities head on," said Brenda Cassellius, Minnesota's Education Commissioner.
Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton, a Democrat, has proposed $640 million in new education funding, including an effort to better integrate schools in hopes of boosting performance for minority students, Cassellius said.

According to this graph, we are ahead of Canada, Sweden, Switzerland and Germany.

Which raises the question - so what? Why do we care - other than to have some valid justification for the claim of American exceptionalism, and to be factually accurate for a change when chanting 'We're number one! We're number one!"?
The same site that provided the graph above outlines why graduation rates matter:
There is a growing consensus that high-school completion is the prerequisite stepping stone to post-secondary education, now deemed essential to success in the labour market. Governments have plenty of evidence that well-educated citizens are more actively engaged in society: they tend to make better choices about factors that affect their quality of life (e.g., diet, smoking, exercise); and they earn higher incomes than those who are less educated. Less prominent in the mind of the public, but equally well-known among decision-makers, is the fact that well-educated and skilled people make important contributions to business innovation, productivity, and national economic performance. In an interconnected global economy, countries with more highly skilled workers have a distinct competitive advantage.
But if that is not enough reason to explain why we need to invest in public education, both nationally and at the state level, this report which came out earlier this week does a better job of explaining why there are other issues involved in having a better educated work force, as well as where some of that budget needs to go at the 'front end' of education, early education, so as to improve those graduation numbers, as well as the numbers of students going on to post-K-12 education.

From Mission Readiness:

Retired Admirals And Generals Release New Report Showing State-Federal Early Learning Proposal Could Lead To Two Million More High School Graduates And $150 Billion In Economic Benefits

As students graduate from high school across U.S., retired military leaders call the federal early learning proposal a national security imperative

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