Graduation gains: More students finish school, but Pittsburgh lags

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Public high school students across the nation have reached a significant milestone: an 80 percent graduation rate. The new statistics from the U.S. Department of Education are encouraging, particularly because the gains are attributed to an increase in graduation rates among African-American and Hispanic students.

The achievement gap between white and minority students is shrinking, which is reason to celebrate. Nationwide, graduation rates rose by 15 percentage points for Hispanics and 9 points for black students between 2006 and 2012, bringing those rates to 76 percent and 68 percent, respectively.

The 80 percent national graduation rate shows that educators, students and parents are hard at work. 

Positive results have occurred because of policy changes that have shifted performance accountability to individual schools. The jump might also be a reflection of our times; finding gainful employment without completing high school is virtually impossible.

There is still more to be done. Graduation rates for low-income students, who are often minorities, range from 58 percent to 85 percent, the report states. Although strides are being made, education and instructional reforms must continue in all school districts.

That applies to the Pittsburgh Public Schools, where the overall graduation rate is 73 percent, compared to Pennsylvania’s 84 percent. The achievement gap turns up in the city schools’ graduation statistics. Pittsburgh’s African-American students have a graduation rate of 69 percent, while its white students have a rate of 78 percent.

While the national figures are encouraging, Pittsburgh and other school districts have a way to go before they measure up to the U.S. average — or the 90 percent graduation rate the nation is projected to realize by 2020.

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