After two years of discouraging news, the nation's high school graduation rate is improving, according to a new report released Tuesday by Education Week.
About 72 percent of public school students from the class of 2008 graduated on time, a 6 percentage-point increase from the 1997 rate, and a 3 percentage-point increase from the 2007 rate. The reported graduation rate is the highest it's been since the mid 1980s.
Improvement has been widespread. Graduation rates jumped in three fourths of states between 1998 and 2008, and a higher percentage of all racial and ethnic groups are graduating now than a decade ago.
Asian and white students still have the most success in high school—8 in 10 Asians and 78 percent of white students graduated in 2008. Black and Hispanic students both have graduation rates of about 57 percent. More females (75 percent) graduated than males (68 percent) across all ethnicities.
Between 2008 and 2009, the number of schools that graduated fewer than 60 percent of their students declined from 1,746 to 1,634. However, these "droupout factories" are still a problem, according to the Education Week report. One fifth of the country's dropouts attended school in one of the 25 districts, mainly found in large cities, that the report dubbed the "epicenters of the graduation crisis." In New York City and Los Angeles alone, more than 35,000 students dropped out of school in 2008.
Several new initiatives started in 2011 may improve the graduation rate further. The federal government is requiring that states uniformly report graduation rates and track dropouts, which will allow for more accurate national data.
Congress also recently introduced the "Every Student Counts Act," which would set a graduation rate goal of 90 percent, with schools expected to increase their rates by 3 percentage points each year.
Several nonprofit organizations have also recently introduced programs to curb dropouts. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting began a $4.4 million initiative to reduce dropouts in 20 communities across the country. The program will use volunteers to mentor at-risk students, and news coverage of the dropout crisis will be ramped up on public media affiliates.
The Alliance for Excellent Education, an organization run by former West Virginia Governor Bob Wise, has tried to make graduation rates an economic issue. By halving the dropout rate nationwide, billions would be pumped into the national economy, according to a report issued by the organization in March.