Graduation Stats Show Equality and Inequality

The U.S. Department of Education released a table showing graduation rates in 2010-11 using a more accurate measure than in the past. The department hasn’t released the sample sizes yet, so it’s chancy to draw great conclusions from some of these figures. Gaps along racial lines persist, with whites and Asians exceeding the average while African Americans and Latinos trail. However, with a few notable exceptions, if a state ranked well graduating one sub-group, it ranked well graduating other sub-groups. In other words, if your state ranked 1st in total graduation rates, it probably had a high African American graduation rate compared with other states, even if there was a large gap between the white and black rates. (Or, if you’re looking at the table, one compares columns, the other compares rows.)

Texas had an 86% total graduation rate, and also ranked high among its peers in rates among African Americans, Hispanics, whites, children with disabilities and economically disadvantaged students. South Dakota had the best rates for children with disabilities, Limited English proficient (LEP) students and economically disadvantaged students. Tennessee had the best graduation rate for Native Americans, and also did well with African Americans and economically disadvantaged students.

At the other end of the scale, Nevada did badly with virtually all of its populations, ranking at or near the bottom with racial and ethnic minorities, special education and poor students.

While rankings didn’t change much when comparing sub-groups, the gaps in graduation rates between white students and minorities are large and stubborn across most states. Only Hawaii has graduation rates that are virtually the same for whites, African Americans, Asians and Hispanics. Gaps are small in Maine, Montana, South Carolina and West Virginia.

The largest gaps in graduation rates between whites and minorities took place in Minnesota, the District of Columbia, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.

As much as we all love empirical rankings, graduation rates are an imperfect measure of school quality. For one thing, a quick way to improve them is to lower graduation standards. Still, people of all ideological persuasions can agree that fewer dropouts are better than more dropouts. It helps that the Department of Education provided more precise data.