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The Arizona Republic.

Cleveland Worst in U.S. in High School Graduation
November 13, 2001

Cleveland's troubled school system is at the bottom of the barrel of U.S. public schools in terms of producing high school graduates, while two districts in the suburbs of Washington top the list, according to a study of high school graduation rates released on Tuesday.

The study, which ranked the performance of all 50 states and the 50 biggest individual school districts, examined the public high school graduating class of 1998. Nationally, 74 percent of students who entered ninth grade with that class earned a diploma, including 78 percent of white students, 56 percent of blacks and 54 percent of Latinos.

Drawing from statistics from the U.S. Department of Education and state and local governments, the comprehensive study conducted by the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, a think tank, revealed startling contrasts by region and race.

In Cleveland, just 28 percent of the class of 1998 earned a diploma. A stunningly low 23 percent of white students graduated -- far lower than any other district studied -- while 26 percent of Latinos and 29 percent of blacks graduated.

Cleveland was one of five districts among the 50 largest in America to manage an overall graduation rate below 50 percent, joined by Memphis (42 percent), Milwaukee (43 percent), Columbus, Ohio, (45 percent) and Chicago (47 percent).

``The stinkers were obvious,'' Jay Greene of the Manhattan Institute, the study's lead researcher, told Reuters. ''Milwaukee and Cleveland -- you could have guessed that they were going to be at the bottom, and they were.''

So-called voucher programs have been created in both cities allowing students in failing public schools to use taxpayer money to help pay for tuition at private or religious schools. Greene said the existence of the voucher programs had no impact on the public school graduation statistics cited in the study.

Six of the 50 largest districts generated graduation rates at or above 80 percent. Two districts in affluent suburbs of Washington led the way, with Virginia's Fairfax County at 87 percent and Montgomery County, Maryland, at 85 percent, followed by Albuquerque, New Mexico (83 percent), Boston (82 percent), Jordan, Utah, (80 percent) and Virginia Beach, Virginia (80 percent).

Philadelphia, whose public schools are slated to be taken over by the state of Pennsylvania with the district's top jobs privatized, ranked in the middle, Greene said, with a 70 percent graduation rate. A strong 91 percent of whites in Philadelphia's class of 1998 earned a diploma, compared with 65 percent of blacks and 53 percent of Latinos.


Looking at statewide numbers, Iowa led the way with 93 percent of its public high school students graduating in 1998, followed by Wisconsin and North Dakota (both 87 percent), and Nebraska, Pennsylvania and Vermont (all 85 percent). Minnesota, Illinois, Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Montana also were at 80 percent or better.

At the bottom of the state rankings was Georgia, with a 57 percent graduation rate, followed by Tennessee (59 percent), Mississippi and Arizona (both 60 percent), Alabama (62 percent) and New Mexico, Florida and Nevada (all 63 percent). Also below 70 percent were North Carolina, Louisiana, Oregon and Texas. The District of Columbia's graduation rate was 60 percent.

Some states that had among highest overall graduation rates produced some of the weakest numbers for blacks. Wisconsin, ranked second overall nationally, had only 40 percent of its blacks graduating, worst in the nation. And Minnesota, also ranking high overall, produced the second-worst numbers for blacks (43 percent).

``Whether students graduate from high school is a very important indicator of their success later in life,'' Greene said. ``High school graduates are more likely to stay in the work force, they're more likely to earn higher salaries from higher skilled work, and high school graduates are less likely to get into trouble with the law, have children out of wedlock or have children at young ages.''

The study did not examine the causes of the graduation rate discrepancies and did not look at private or religious schools. About 90 percent of U.S. students are in public schools.

©2001 Arizona Republic



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