The percentage of high-schoolers in the U.S. who are getting their diplomas has reached record levels, and the student populations that have traditionally lagged behind—particularly poor children of color—account for much of that progress.
The latest figures, contained in a report published this week, suggest that the country is on track to reach a high-school graduation rate of 90 percent by 2020—a goal set by the coalition of organizations that produced the analysis and has tracked data from the National Center for Education Statistics annually over the past decade or so. In 2013, the most recent year for which comprehensive is available, 81 percent of the year’s class members graduated. (The report generally calculates rates by dividing the number of students who graduate in four years and receive a regular high-school diploma by the total number of students in the graduating class’s cohort; this is the metric used here whenever graduation rates are referenced.)
Boosting graduation rates has become a priority for districts across the country, in large part because of the ever-increasing importance of a high-school—and postsecondary—degree in the U.S. economy. Many of the 2015 report’s findings are certainly encouraging: Most states hit or exceeded the national average, including a few that are already very close to reaching that 2020 goal. Students of color are making the biggest gains, with Latinos, the fastest-growing student population, at the forefront of that trend. The number of “dropout factories”—high schools whose 12th-grade classes are drastically smaller than their ninth-grade ones—has also gone down.