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Pa. lags behind nation in graduation rate improvement

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

A new Graduation Nation report shows that the country is on track to reach a 90 percent high school graduation rate by 2020. Pennsylvania, however, is one of 23 states not on track to reach that milestone — largely due to lagging progress in graduating Black and Latino students.

Pennsylvania is one of 20 states in which the African American graduation rate is below 66 percent, and one of 16 states in which the Latino graduation rate is below 66 percent (both are 65 percent). The gap between White and Black graduation rates and White and Latino graduation rates is, in both cases, 23 percentage points. The White graduation rate in Pennsylvania now stands at 88 percent.

Although Pennyslvania has a higher overall graduation rate at 83 percent than the nation as a whole (78.2 percent), it will not attain the goal because much of the overall improvement nationally is due to much better rates for Black and Latino students. Pennsylvania lags too far behind in those groups to catch up in seven years.

The average yearly improvement in the graduation rate between 2006 and 2010 is 1.25 percentage points. Pennsylvania’s improvement was 0.4 point.

The number of “dropout factories,” or high schools in which the graduation class is less than 60 percent of the entering freshman class four years before, has declined markedly between 2002 and 2011, according to the report. The biggest reduction in dropout factories was in the South, which cut its number in half, and, generally, in suburbs and towns. Cities showed a much smaller decline.

Nationally, in 2002, 46 percent of African American and 39 percent of Latino students attended "dropout factories." By 2011, that had dropped to 25 percent of Blacks and 17 percent of Latinos, largely due to steep drops in the numbers of those schools in states like Florida and Texas.

According to the data, Pennyslvania didn’t show a steep decline in dropout factories, most located in Philadelphia and other urban areas. There were 43 dropout factories in Pennsylvania in 2011, compared to 48 in 2002.