A closer look at Iowa's high school graduation rate

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March 28, 2014 | 12:15 pm

Nine out of every 10 students who walked into Iowa’s public high schools in 2008 walked out last spring as graduates, according to figures released last week by the State Department of Education.

The state’s 2012 four-year graduation rate — 89.26 percent, to be exact — was up nearly a percentage point over the year before, when Iowa already led the country in overall graduation rates. That’s good news.

But another figure got lost in all of the back slapping last week: The stubborn gap between Iowa’s high-performing and lower-performing subgroups.

Because while 91 percent of the Class of 2012’s Caucasian kids graduated on time, only 77 percent of Hispanic kids, 74 percent of black kids and 73 percent of American Indian kids did.

The four-year graduation rate for English language learners was 74 percent. For students with disabilities, it was 74 percent. Only 80 percent of students of low socioeconomic status graduated with their class. In fact, at least one group lists Iowa among one of the worst states in the country when it comes to graduation rates for black male students, specifically.

Iowa’s “conspicuously large” gap between graduation rates for black and white male students was recently highlighted in the 2012 Schott Foundation for Public Education’s “Urgency of Now” report. The group is concerned with educational equity and that gap earned Iowa a ranking of 48 — better only than New York and the District of Columbia — on their list.

The Schott Foundation crunches graduation numbers a little differently than the Iowa DOE — which uses a system of unique identifiers to track high school kids who switch schools before graduation. The data in their most recent report is from the 2009-10 school year — old news compared with the state DOE figures released last week.

But look back at the state’s graduation figures from the same year, and the gap looks about the same. Why does the gap persist? That should be the headline.

There is no one reason, but there are some institutional factors we know are in play here in Iowa as they are across the country. The Schott Foundation calls it “pushout and lockout”: Students of color are more likely to face harsher punishments for misbehavior, to be “pushed out” of classrooms by suspension or expulsion.

They also are more likely to be “locked out” of schools with more resources — from student-centered learning programs and early childhood education, from advanced placement courses and programs for gifted children.

Those are dynamics we can change. We owe it to our students.

Comments: (319) 339-3154; jennifer.hemmingsen@sourcemedia.net

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