Sunday, May 19, 2013

Four Reasons to Celebrate High School Graduation in Kansas

As many high schools across Kansas hold graduation ceremonies this week, here are some important facts to celebrate about our school system.

1. High school completion is at an all-time high in Kansas and the U.S.

The percent of adults who have completed high school has increased with every census since data collection began in 1940.  High school completion did not reach 50 percent of the population until the 1960's.

Kansas has exceeded the national average by approximately 5 percent each decade and reached nearly 90% in the most recent U.S. Census Bureau report on educational attainment.

Kansas ranked 15th in the nation in 2009 with an 89.7% adult completion rate.  States in the region exceeding Kansas include Minnesota (2nd, 91.5%), Iowa (7th, 90.5%), North Dakota (11th, 90.1%), South Dakota (12, 89.9%), and Nebraska (13th, 89.8%).  Trailing Kansas were Colorado (17th, 89.3%), Missouri (28th, 86.8%), Oklahoma (32nd, 85.6%), and Texas (50th, 79.9%).

2. High school completion has been increasing for all major ethnic groups

Another study looks the percentage of young adults age 18-24 completing high school.  This is different from the adult (over 24) population, because it focuses on individuals finishing high school either "on time" or within a few years of their "graduating class."  Although not broken down by state, this report shows the progress the nation has made to closing achievement gaps among major ethnic groups.

Since 1972, overall high school graduates aged 18-24 increased from just over 80% to nearly 90%.  The completion rate for whites increased at about the same rate, from 85% to 95%.  But completion by African-Americans rose from just over 70% to 85%, and for Hispanics increased from under 60% to 75%. Despite legitimate concerns about the U.S. high school drop-out problem, especially for minorities, high school completion rates have never been higher, and minorities have narrowed the gap with whites.  This information is from "Trends in High School Dropout and Completion Rates in the United States: 1972-2009"  by the National Center on Educations Statistics.

More recent data on high school completion - and movement into college - comes from the Pew Hispanic Research Center, which details significant improvement in high school completion, especially by Hispanics, since 2000.

3. Kansas ranks high nationally in graduation rates

A more narrow focus than high school "completion" is the four-year graduation rate; in other words, what percent of students graduate "on time" within four years of entering high school as a freshman.  The most recent "Diplomas Count"  report, with data on the class of 2009, shows Kansas with a 78.4% four-year graduation rate, 10th highest in the nation.  The 2012 annual  U.S. "Condition of Education" reports Kansas had an 80.2% freshman graduation rate for 2009, 15th highest.  Most recently, the U.S. Department of Education released a report for the class of 2011, which first the first time required all states to use a common methodology.  It reported Kansas had an 83.0% graduation rate, 12th best in the nation. (It's not clear whether the differences are due to different reporting methods or actual improvements between 2009 and 2011.)

For persons aged 18-24 who have completed high school, the U.S. Digest of Education Statistics
for 2011 reported Kansas had an 86.1% completion rate over 2007-2009, 17th in the nation.

4. Kansas gets higher graduation outcomes while spending less per pupil, educating more at-risk students

After averaging the four reports listed above, Kansas ranks 11th in the nation.  The ten states ranking higher are North Dakota, Wisconsin, Vermont, Iowa, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Nebraska and Pennsylvania.

Given the debate over the link between school funding and achievement, it is worth noting that every state but one spent significantly more per pupil in 2010 than Kansas (Iowa spent about the same).  It's also significant that every state with a higher average completion rate had fewer low-income students (a 10-state average of 34.7% eligible for free or reduced price meals, compared to 45.7% in Kansas). Finally, every state except New Jersey had a lower percentage of non-white students (a 10-state average of 22.9% non-white, compared to 31.2% non-white in Kansas).

As students and their families celebrate high school graduation this year, remember to celebrate the work of the Kansas educators, school board members and other elected officials who helped make these results possible.

Next week, we will look at results for college completion.

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