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The Diploma Gap

New York State released its graduation rates and found that despite more rigorous state requirements, about the same percentage (74%) of kids graduated.   Good news, right?  Well, it depends on who you are and where you go to school.

The graduation rate for kids in poor districts is 65% compared with 94% in wealthy districts.  The graduation rate for white kids is 28% higher than that for black and Hispanic kids.  So I guess we could say that the higher standards weren’t really a big problem if you happened to be a white kid in a wealthy district. 

This year was the first year that kids could no longer earn a local diploma.  Instead, they had to score a 65% or better on five regents exams to earn a diploma at all.  Said Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, “Tens of thousands of students are still leaving high school with no diploma and fewer options for Diploma the future. “  Tisch supports the higher standards, apparently unaware of their effect on those “tens of thousands.”

But even more troubling than the gap in graduation rates is this statistic:  75% of prisoners in New York State do not have a high school diploma.  And New York’s not alone.  The Ohio Department of Corrections reported in 2011 that about 80% of those entering the prison system did not have a high school diploma.  Nationally, the Bureau of Justice Statistics puts that number at about 70%. 

Research shows that “failing in school” is a major reason that kids drop out.  Many see no relationship between their classes and real life.  Other factors include being retained at some point as well as poor attendance.  Frankly, higher standards mean nothing to kids who aren’t there.  

While it’s good news that some states are initiating new efforts of keep kids in school or help them return when they’ve dropped out, we have to develop programs that are meaningful to kids.  We have to give kids various paths to success.  We have to show them that yes, what they do in school does have practical application.

There was a time when kids had options not only “for the future,” but also for their high school careers.  They had numerous programs from which to choose, some purely academic college prep, some vocational, some a combination of both.  We need to make it possible again for all kids to qualify for some kind of diploma.  For many, it’s their ticket to a better life.

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