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Graduation rate for US high-schoolers falls for second straight year

The graduation rate was 68.8 percent in 2007, according to a new study. But the report also identifies 21 big-city 'overachievers' that posted higher-than-expected graduation rates.

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“When the school board hired me four years ago ... they said, ‘We don’t want to lose one single student,’ ” says Newport-Mesa superintendent Jeffrey Hubbard. “Students who are struggling in our comprehensive high schools have other alternatives,” he says, including hands-on classes at community colleges, where they can simultaneously work toward an associate’s degree.

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Another reason Mr. Hubbard says graduation rates have improved: a collaborative approach to student progress. “We ask ourselves ... what do students need to learn ... and how do we respond if they’re not? [We] really look at whether kids are getting it,” he says.

Diplomas Count” computes the percentage of public-school students who graduate with a standard high school diploma in four years by using a method known as the Cumulative Promotion Index, which enables comparisons across all districts.

Racial and ethnic gaps persist, the report notes. Forty-six percent of black students, 44 percent of Latinos, and 49 percent of native Americans did not earn a diploma in four years.

About one-fifth of the nongraduates hail from 25 large school districts, including New York City; Los Angeles; and Clark County, Nev.

The numbers can be important even for families with no children in school, Ms. Pinkus notes. If dropouts were reduced by half in America’s 50 largest cities, the graduates’ extra earnings would add up to about $4.1 billion a year, which would increase state and local tax revenue by as much as $536 million, according to a recent analysis by the Alliance for Excellent Education.

By 2011-12, the US Department of Education will be holding states accountable for progress in four-year graduation rates.