The nation’s high school graduation rate is 80 percent, good news

April 28, 2014 

Even as some happily greeted the news that the high school graduation rate in public schools has hit 80 percent, based on numbers from the federal Department of Education, more sobering numbers were offered by Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

There’s nothing wrong with 80 percent, Duncan seemed to say, but he was more concerned about those who don’t graduate.

“Let’s talk in concrete terms about who is behind those numbers,” Duncan said in The Washington Post. “That 20 percent represents 718,000 young people, among them a sharply disproportionate share of African-Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans.” The number also is disproportionate for those learning English and students with special needs.

“High school graduation may have once been a finish line, but today it is just a beginning,” Duncan said in The Post.

North Carolina’s rate also is at 80 percent.

It’s unfortunate, perhaps, that Duncan is right that a high school diploma has stopped being a passport to a guarantee of work. That has never been more true than today when so many college graduates have had to “drop down” in the work force to jobs for which they ordinarily might be overqualified. The high school graduates competing with them are at a disadvantage, given that those college-level workers are willing to accept lower pay out of necessity.

So more effort is needed on the part of education officials and state and federal leaders to accomplish two steps: One, the high school graduation rate needs to climb toward 100 percent; two, post-high school education, be it conventional college or community college or vocational training, must become, in the minds of the nation’s young people, a necessity and not an option. One of the lessons of the Great Recession is that America’s youth will have more opportunities if they have more education and training.

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