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Texas Drop Out Rates Need Improving

Joe Fruchey
(cc) flickr

Texas high school graduation rates are up compared to a decade ago. But KERA’s Bill Zeeble reports they lag behind the national average, and fall even farther behind a nationwide goal of graduating 9 out of 10 students.

The latest numbers from America’s Promise Alliance show national graduation rates have risen 3.5 percent since 2002. The non-profit organization wants a 90 percent rate by 2020. Colleen Wilber, with the group, says Texas lags behind that goal with just a 75 percent graduation rate. She says foreign language students slow graduation rates.

Jump to 2012 "Building A Grad Nation" Report (below)

Wilber: It goes back down to tracking and knowing who your students are. What are their needs and how do you best address those needs? If you have a large portion of students who are English language learners, how do you get them into the system? How do you get them acclimated?

Wilber says the state’s number of low-income families also take a toll on graduation rates.

Wilber: If they live in poverty they’re more than double the chance of being at greater risk for dropping out of high school. Socio-economic factors are incredibly powerful.

Still, Wilber readily praises the state’s accomplishments. She says educators have turned half of the worst high schools around, so they are no longer what she calls drop-out factories.

Wilber: What was really impressive about Texas, though, is that you guys are really leading the nation, and when I say leading you’re far outpacing the other states, in terms of decreasing the number of dropout factory high schools that you guys have.

However, Wilber says more than a hundred of these bad high schools remain. The Texas Education Agency acknowledges graduation rates need improving. But the TEA’s Debbie Ratcliffe disagrees with the Promise Alliance’s estimates. Ratcliffe says the Texas dropout is better than that, and it has been improving for several reasons.

Ratcliffe: Charter schools, for example, have rescued a lot of students who would’ve otherwise been drop outs. And some innovative programs, like early college high school programs, that take kids that might been bored in high school and on the verge of dropping out, it instead challenges them.

And Ratcliffe says those kids end up staying in school and graduating at very high rates.

Link: Building a Grad Nation 2012

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.