Abysmal Graduation Rates

May 13, 2008

The other day I happened to catch a brief blurb in the news about country singer Gretchen Wilson achieving her GED at age 34. One of the main reasons she cited for obtaining her degree, after having dropped out of school in ninth grade, was that she did not want her seven-year-old daughter to believe that she could be as successful as her mother without a degree. In addition, Wilson wanted to be able to help her daughter with homework as she advances through school. This is an impressive example of someone taking personal responsibility in order to be a positive role model for her daughter and other young women.

Young girls are bombarded with images of successful women singers on a daily basis. The Disney Channel’s “Cheetah Girls” and Hannah Montana, the annual American Idol competitions, and the endless media coverage of Britney Spears all provide a clear message that one of the best ways to become admired, rich, successful, and popular is through a singing career. While there is much discussion in this country on how to cope with the continuing deficiencies in our education system, this national dialogue does not reach school-age children and teenagers. What message do they absorb as they get older about their education and their own possibilities and limitations?

A report recently released by the America’s Promise Alliance provides some staggering statistics about children’s educational achievements. For example, Gretchen Wilson’s experience of not completing high school the first time around is not such a rare occurrence. According to the report, only about seven in ten students successfully finish high school. Even more disconcerting are the differences between urban, rural, and suburban graduation rates. High school graduation rates are 15 percentage points lower in the nation’s urban schools than in suburban schools. Graduation rates are as low as 24.9% in Detroit, 30% in Indianapolis, and 34.1% in Cleveland.

In addition to differences between urban and suburban graduation rates, research shows that certain other student populations, especially ethnic and racial minorities, have lower than national average graduation rates. These statistics suggest a deeper, underlying problem of inequity in our school system. Education is key to offering broader opportunities to the disadvantaged and to increasing awareness and understanding about equity in America. Unfortunately, rather than providing such an education, our schools introduce and reinforce some of the worst equity issues America has to face. That our children do not receive equal educational opportunities and support is an indicator that economic, racial, ethnic, and gender divisions are still significant issues.

Do you have personal experience with inequity in our school systems? Do you or someone you know struggle against these problems as a teacher, student, mentor, or parent? Where do you think research and energy needs to be invested the most when it comes to improving our educational system?

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