Washington dinged in new report on high school grad rates; urban innovations praised

Washington gets mixed reviews in the 2015 Building a Grad Nation report. The state still shows up as a performance laggard. But the innovative Road Map Project in Seattle and South King County is singled out as a success story.

This map from the report shows how the states are doing. To see state-by-state numbers go to the interactive map in the this report overview. ACGR stands for Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate, a measure that tracks students who enter high school together, adjusting for transfers.

ACGR map

Overall, the analysis shows the nation is making uneven progress. The Associated Press reports,

The record high American graduation rate masks large gaps among low income students and those with disabilities compared to their peers.

There are also wide disparities among states in how well they are tackling the issue.

Washington is on the wrong side of the disparities.

Graduation rates among the states vary, ranging from 90 percent in Iowa to 69 percent in Oregon.

Gains have been fueled, in part, by large growth in some of the nation’s largest states, including California, Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina. But 15 percent of the nation’s high school students attend school in New York, Illinois, Washington and Arizona, where rates are declining or stagnating.

About Washington, the report says there’s reason to be concerned.

Worrisome for the nation is the [recent] performance of New York, Illinois, Washington, and Arizona, which, combined, educate about 15 percent of the nation’s high school students … Washington State experienced no improvement [from 2011-2013].

There’s a wealth of detail in the report, which examines progress toward a 90 percent graduation rate for all students by 2020. The researchers examine quarterly performance, each quarter being a 5-year period from 2001 to 2020. We’re currently in the third quarter, 2011-2015, with data available for 2011-2013.

While overall the report finds that the nation is on track toward meeting the 90 percent goal,

As the third quarter comes to a close and the fourth and final quarter begins, the nation will need to double down on its efforts to increase graduation rate outcomes for low-income, minority, and special education students, and continue driving progress in big states and large school districts, where the majority of the country’s student population resides.

The good news for Washington, the research finds, is in urban innovation. Citing a California leader’s comment that “graduation is a solvable problem,” GradNation identifies the Road Map Project as one of the solutions.

…in Washington State, the Road Map Project, serving south King County and the southern, high-poverty area of Seattle Public Schools, set a goal is to double the number of students on track to graduate ready for success in college and career by 2020…

Setting a new national model for improvement, the RMP collaboration is led by the Community Center for Education Results (CCER) with the Puget Sound Educational Service District (PSESD)…

It’s working.

…true to original college readiness goals, by the Class of 2013, 58 percent of RMP 11th and 12th grade students had taken one or more advanced courses (AP, IB or Cambridge Curriculum), and African American students increased their AP participation by 9 percentage points. 

Tacoma, too, is singled out for its successful innovations.

Eight years ago, all of Tacoma’s comprehensive high schools were named to the dropout factory list developed at Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Social Organization of Schools. Today, the graduation rate is 78 percent.

Three years ago, the Washington State superintendent named Tacoma the first district Innovation Zone. Schools adopted different improvement practices, and there is now open enrollment throughout the county. There has been a keen emphasis on motivating and supporting students in going to college.

In our research report, we identify increasing high school graduation rates as a top priority. We noted,

In 2012, Washington ranked 32nd among the states for high school graduation rate, with a rate of 77 percent. Washington’s four-year high school graduation rate in 2013 (for students who began ninth grade in 2009-10) was 76.0 percent.

The Washington State Board of Education has established a goal of increasing that number to 89 percent by the end of this decade. The state must meet or exceed this objective to become one of the top 10 states for high school graduation.

Although Washington continues to lag, the state’s urban districts are making progress. The progress must continue to expand opportunity for all students in our state.


Preparing students for tech and “middle skill” jobs

The Brookings Institution offers new insight into the often-overlooked opportunities available in “middle skill” careers. (Blog post here; brief here.) There’s been much concern expressed regarding the shrinking middle class. What’s welcome about the Brookings report is the specificity of forward-looking policy prescriptions. 

Three sets of policies should help address these problems:

  1. Providing more resources to community (and lower-tier 4-year) colleges but also creating incentives and accountability by basing state subsidies on student completion rates and earnings of graduates;
  2. Expanding high-quality career and technical education plus work-based learning models like apprenticeship; and
  3. Assisting and incentivizing employers to create more good jobs. 

As we’ve noted, 70 percent of Washington jobs in 2020 will require postsecondary education and training. Many of them will be the middle skill jobs that expand economic opportunity and security for the majority of Washington households. Brookings has it right.

So, too, does former Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Scott Carson, who advocates for more STEM education, particularly for young women.

Targeted investment in education that produces positive outcomes must continue to be the state’s priority. It’s both likely and proper that lawmakers, then, will set aside funding for Initiative 1351 until voters approve a way to pay for it.

The Everett Herald today editorializes in favor of sending the measure back to the voters. The Senate approved a referral Monday; House Democrats see problems with that approach (though they agree full funding is not likely).  

An Elway Poll finds that voters still like the idea of smaller class sizes at every grade level, the 1351 mandate, even if higher taxes are required. But because the poll did not specify which taxes or how much money would be necessary, lawmakers are justified in believing voters would show buyer’s remorse should they have a second chance to consider the measure. 

Pollster H. Stuart Elway noted that the lead for I-1351 evaporated last year as opponents hammered on the cost.

“This smaller lead might be vulnerable once real dollars are attached,” he said.

More important than worrying about how to pay for I-1351 is the real priority: Aligning incentives, accountability and funding to assure that every Washington student has the opportunity for career and college success.