As graduation rates climb, demographic gaps persist


America’s graduation rates are showing “clear growth,” a Washington, D.C.-based consortium said Tuesday.

But there is plenty of work to do — especially when it comes to closing achievement gaps that are evident in Idaho and across the nation.

“If we ever want to reach a more equitable path for all, we must make sure states continue to do the more challenging work of raising graduation rates for key groups of students that are still behind the national average,” said Jennifer DePaoli, a senior researcher and policy advisor at Civic Enterprises, a Washington group that partnered on the graduation rate report released Tuesday.

The latest “Building a Grad Nation” report emphasizes some positives in the 2016 numbers.

Overall, the national graduation rate climbed to a record 84 percent. Two states hit the 90 percent mark — the consortium’s long-range goal — and about half of the states are within striking range of this yardstick.

Idaho is not at this 90 percent mark, and isn’t in striking range either.

For the class of 2016, the focus of the Grad Nation report, Idaho’s graduation rate came in at 79.7 percent. The state has since released its numbers for the following year, and they are flat.

Poverty is a driving factor. While slightly more than half of the state’s students come from low-income households, more than three fourths of the state’s high school dropouts come from poverty.

In order to address this problem, states might need to rethink the way they carve up K-12 dollars.

“States should address inequities between high- and low-poverty school districts by establishing weighted funding formulas that provide more state funding to schools serving students with the greatest needs,” the report said. “States and districts should also work together
 to determine where those dollars can have the greatest impact and follow the evidence of what works, especially as they begin to develop comprehensive support and improvement plans for their lowest-performing schools.”

A legislative committee is looking at rewriting Idaho’s school funding formula for the first time in nearly a quarter century, and lawmakers will resume their work in Boise this week. The committee is looking at a student-based formula that could provide extra dollars to schools that serve special-needs students.

While authors of the Building a Grad Nation report have championed a lofty national goal — a 90 percent graduation rate — Idaho is aiming even higher.

Within five years, the state hopes to improve its graduation rate to 95 percent, a milestone no other state has reached. As part of this larger goal, Idaho wants to hit the 90 percent mark in several demographics: Hispanic students, Native American students, English language learners and students in low-income households.

More reading: This year, Idaho Education News will take an in-depth look at education options after high school — and take a closer look at the state’s demographic gaps. Here is a link to Idaho Education News’ award-winning series from December.

Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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