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Graduation capsToday’s good news about North Carolina’s rising high school graduation rate serves to highlight several important facts that ought to be taken into account as the public and state leaders debate the future of our public schools. Here are five:

#1 – There are no “quick fixes” in a giant system like the North Carolina public schools. The latest encouraging numbers are no more the result of recent legislative actions than, say, improved traffic flow on the interstate highway system is. To improve outcomes in such massive systems takes sustained attention and investments over a period of many years.

#2- The new results are, therefore, quite clearly the result of many years of hard work by a lot of people. At the core of the success, however, was the widespread acknowledgement by virtually all stakeholders — elected officials, education leaders, business leaders, teachers, parents, advocates etc… — that the state had a big problem and that something had to be done.  The widespread acceptance and discussion of this fact led, over time, to more and more people talking about the problem and more and more people wanting and trying to do something about it.  Many ideas undoubtedly flopped, but over time, the cumulative effect of lots of creative thinking and sustained attention has born some excellent fruit.

#-3 - The work to improve graduation rates starts before a child even enters school. Read More

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It’s only incremental progress, but it is worth noting the quite measurable bump (almost 3%) that has taken place in the most recent data on American high school graduation rates. The data are from 2009-10 so there may even be grounds for hoping that the actual rate is now even higher. This is from the story in Education Week:

“The new NCES report reflects the best performance in decades by high school students. It is the highest graduation rate since 1969-70, when the figure was 78.7 percent. Since 1972, when the dropout rate was 14.6 percent, it has steadily improved, falling to 11 percent in 1992 and 3.4 percent for the class of 2010.

There were 38 states with an increase of one percentage point or more, in the most recent analysis. Overall, 3.1 million students received a diploma in 2009-10, the report, ‘Public School Graduates and Dropouts from the Common Core of Data: School Year 2009-10′ finds.”

Does this mean that the problem has been addressed or that we now know the solution to all of our public education challenges? Of course not. We obviously have a long way to go and can readily surmise that the recent progress is the result of dozens of factors — some related to school policies and some not.

But it also seems safe to draw a couple of additional conclusions from the new data: Read More

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A new study released today that found that nearly one in every six black students in the country’s public schools are suspended from school during the school year.

That rate stays true for North Carolina, where 16.3 percent of black students (just under one in six) were suspended in the 2009-2010 school year, according to the analysis of federal education data by the Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Deroches Civiles at University of California-Los Angeles.

The report, “Opportunities suspended: the disparate impact of disciplinary exclusion from school,” used data from school districts around the country, including North Carolina data that reflected more than 90 percent of all students in the state.

Also highly concerning in North Carolina was the 18 percent rate of suspend Native American students in the state.

(Chart made from the UCLA data)

 

North Carolina recently reported a four-year graduation rate that topped 80 percent, the first for the state and hailed as a success by education leaders. But black and American Indian students lagged behind that with 73.7 percent and 74.5 percent graduation rates, respectively.

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It’s been fascinating this week to listen to the state’s conservative political leadership try to spin the new graduation data released by education officials. Observers had to be careful not to get a case of whiplash from the 180 degree change in tone.

Here’s State Senate leader Phil Berger just three months ago in a statement that accompanied the release of his big “education reform” package:

“In order to fix our state’s broken education system, we must stop constantly reaching for our checkbook and focus on reforming our playbook.”

Got that? North Carolina’s education system was/is “broken.”

Compare that to the following statement sent out this week in a fundraiser by North Carolina House Republicans in response to the news that North Carolina’s high school graduation rate had exceeded 80%: Read More

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Felipe Matos is among the top 20 community college students in America, but he’s ineligible for financial aid at the top universities that have accepted him. Gaby Pacheco has three education degrees and plans to use music therapy as a teaching tool for autistic children and adults. Brought to the United States at age 2, Carlos Roa wanted to join the military but could not because of his immigration status.

Three months ago, they embarked on Trail of Dreams, a 1,500 mile walk from Miami to Washington.  These students are facing much more than sore feet; several are undocumented, and they risk deportation and detention to share their stories and raise awareness about the need for just immigration reform.

These students exemplify why support is growing for the DREAM Act, federal legislation that would enable students brought to the U.S. at a young age to legally access higher education and financial aid. Every year, 65,000 students graduate U.S. high schools but are denied a college education because of our broken and unjust immigration system.  These students include valedictorians, class presidents and community leaders.  Yet they are refused the opportunity to further their education and give back to America — the country they see as their home.

Just graduating high school can be more challenging for undocumented students than for their peers; they often must learn English as a second language, take care of family responsibilities that their parents cannot manage without understanding English, overcome low socio-economic status and all that that entails, and cope with the psychological trauma of living in fear of deportation.

Trail of Dreams, which made its way through the Triangle last week, is a journey of hope for these students and the 12 million undocumented migrants in the United States.

For more information, check out the Southern Coalition for Social Justice’s Statement of Support.