New report on improving graduation rates singles out success of Georgia and APS

A new report credits Georgia with dramatically improving high school grad rates. (AJC/file photo)

A new report credits Georgia with dramatically improving high school grad rates. (AJC/file photo)

A new report on nationwide high school graduation trends celebrates Georgia as one of three states that saw a decrease in the number of “dropout factory” schools by more than 50 between 2002 and 2010.

According to Building a Grad Nation 2012, Georgia had 54 schools drop from the unsavory list, while Texas had 122  and Florida had 62. Dropout factories are defined as high schools graduating 60 percent or fewer of their students on time.

Georgia is also among a dozen states credited for boosting the overall U.S. high school graduation rate. The other states are New York, Tennessee, Florida, North Carolina, Texas, South Carolina, Missouri, Alabama, Massachusetts, Wisconsin and Kentucky. These 12 states added nearly 109,000 additional graduates in 2009.

The report says that Georgia raised its grad rate from 61 percent to 68 percent by 2010. (Please note that the state has used a different formula to calculate the grad rate in the past that has yielded a higher rate.)

The report credits a statewide focus on grad rates: Georgia’s improving high school graduation rate illustrates what can occur when economic and community forces converge. Georgia has large income and education disparities. Metropolitan Atlanta, with 60 percent of the state’s population, is relatively affluent, educated and the hub of population growth; rural areas, small towns and cities are often the reverse . Over two decades, governors, legislators, educators, and corporate and nonprofit leaders have recognized that statewide educational improvement is necessary to drive economic well-being
and improve the quality of life

The report — by the Civic Enterprises, the Everyone Graduates Center, America’s Promise Alliance and the Alliance for Excellent Education — found that 24 states increased graduation rates by modest to large gains, while the number of high schools graduating 60 percent or fewer students on time decreased by 457 between 2002 and 2010.

On page 54, Grady High School and Atlanta Public Schools are recognized for their efforts to keep kids in school and on target for graduation.

Among the comments in the section on Grady:

The new APS superintendent, formerly chancellor of the Georgia university system, is instituting new measures to stabilize a school system challenged by a cheating scandal in the elementary and middle schools. The challenge for Grady, as it traverses its first full year of academies, is to capitalize on its capacity and culture to teach all students well and strengthen skills of students who come to high school unprepared. Graduation rates dropped slightly in the last two years. While there is only a small gap in graduation rates between African- American, and White students, there remain sizable gaps in performance on the high school graduation tests, particularly at the advanced level and in mathematics

According to a report summation:

The number of “dropout factories” totaled 1,550 in 2010, down from 1,634 in 2009 and a high of 2,007 in 2002. The number declined by 84 between 2009 and 2010. As a result, 790,000 fewer students attended dropout factories in 2010 than 2002.

These numbers and additional analysis are detailed in the 2012 Building a Grad Nation: Progress and Challenge in Ending the High School Dropout Epidemic, an annual report authored by John Bridgeland and Mary Bruce of Civic Enterprises and Robert Balfanz and Joanna Fox at the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University. The report is sponsored by AT&T with additional support from the Pearson Foundation.

“The good news is that some states have made improvements in their graduation rates, showing it can be done. But the data also indicate that if we are to meet our national goals by 2020, we will have to accelerate our rate of progress, particularly in the states that have shown little progress,” said Robert Balfanz, director of Everyone Graduates Center, Johns Hopkins University, and co-author of the Building a Grad Nation report.

Other findings include:

• The national graduation rate increased by 3.5 percentage points between 2001 and 2009 from 72 percent to 75.5 percent in 2009.

• 20 states made the most significant gains in graduation rates (+3 to +17 percentage points). Tennessee (+17.8) and New York (+13) saw double-digit gains.

• 12 states were responsible for the majority of progress during the past decade: New York, Tennessee, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Texas, South Carolina, Missouri, Alabama, Massachusetts, Wisconsin and Kentucky. Combined, these states added nearly 109,000 additional graduates in 2009.

• Nine of these 12 states (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas) were also among the top 15 states with the biggest declines in students attending “dropout factories.”

• The following states actually saw declines in their graduation rates during this period: Nevada (-15.6), Connecticut (-4.3), New Mexico (-2.6), Arizona (-2.2), California (-1.7), Utah (-1.1), Nebraska (-1.0), Arkansas (-0.8), New Jersey (-0.5) and Rhode Island (-0.4).

• Only one state, Wisconsin, has a graduation rate of 90 percent.

• The following 13 states: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Virginia, and Washington have to graduate the largest number of students and be most aggressive in accelerating their graduation rate to reach a 90 percent graduation rate by 2020.

• The South and the suburbs saw the largest declines in the number of “dropout factory” schools with 410 and 171, respectively, between 2002 and 2009.

• The number of “dropout factory” high schools declined by 98 in cities in 2009-2010 while suburbs saw a decrease of 41. Between 2002 and 2010, the Northeast had the second largest decline of 43 while the West decreased by 35. The Midwest increased their number of “dropout factory” schools by 33 during 2002-10.

• Contrary to 2008-09, progress in towns and rural areas stalled in 2009-2010.

• School districts in towns and rural areas saw an increase in the number of “dropout factory” schools between 2009 and 2010. Towns increased the number of these schools by 42 and rural areas by 33 schools.

• This slight increase does not diminish progress between 2002 and 2010 where towns decreased their dropout factory schools by 33 percent, slightly behind their suburban counterparts at 36 percent.

The report also includes updates on progress on the 10 Civic Marshall Plan benchmarks, such as grade-level reading, chronic absenteeism, early warning systems, and state compulsory school age requirements. As highlighted by President Obama in his 2012 State of the Union Address, state laws dictate the minimum and maximum age that all youth must attend school. While the majority of states have a compulsory school age of 17 or 18, a total of 18 states still permit students to drop out before age 18 or the age students drop out.

”In large part the battle will be won or lost in the 13 states that have the largest number of students to get back on track to graduate and need to accelerate their progress two to three-fold in order to reach 90 percent high school graduation rates by 2020,” said John Bridgeland, CEO of Civic Enterprises and co-author of the Building a Grad Nation report.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

43 comments Add your comment

[...] A report released in Washington today provided heartening news on improving high school graduation r…, including here in Georgia. [...]

This Nana knows...

March 19th, 2012
11:10 pm

If you keep dumbing the schools down enough, you may as well just hand the kids a diploma after so many years. As it is, the numbers don’t mean anything, and neither does that piece of paper.

Dr. John Trotter

March 20th, 2012
12:37 am

Playing with graduate rates and keeping students in school at all costs is a game constantly played. Some students probably should drop out, if they are going to stay in school, do no work, and just cause disruptions for those students who are motivated to learn.


March 20th, 2012
12:42 am

Some of these graduates cannot read their own degree. Not everyone should go to college.

East Atlanta

March 20th, 2012
1:48 am

There’s an easier, outside-the-box way to not only keep the Coan community together, but unite all of East Atlanta:

Send all “Atlanta in DeKalb” 6th through 12th grade students to the Coan building and rename it East Atlanta Middle & High School.

This also would relieve overcrowding at Grady High and Inman Middle, so no need to convert Coan into a 6th grade annex for Inman-zoned students while sending the local neighborhood students to King Middle four miles away.

A rough estimate indicates a school enrollment of 850 to 900, which is the ideal enrollment for the Coan building. The majority of the students would come from Grady High, followed by Inman Middle and then about 100 from M.H. Jackson High.

Nobody has proposed this to Mr. Davis, but it’s an idea that accomplishes ALL of his goals. It creates a true “Atlanta in DeKalb” community and the feeder pattern couldn’t be more aligned (being in the same building and all). It would provide stable, community-based education in East Atlanta and expand the Grady-esque successes of Atlanta Public Schools.

Dr. Craig Spinks/ Georgians for Educational Excellence

March 20th, 2012
2:22 am

Would anyone with so little as a scintilla of intelligence trust any data out of Kathy Cox’s GDOE or Beverly Hall’s APS?

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[...] A report released in Washington today provided heartening news on improving high school graduation r…, including here in Georgia. [...]

Aim High

March 20th, 2012
4:44 am

Awesome. Aim high – less than 70% graduation rate.


March 20th, 2012
7:19 am

The more I think about this, the madder I get. How does it make sense to bus 300+ local kids FROM Coan in order to bus in 200+ kids from Inman Middle? I thought Error Davis’ main concern was the near empty building, but this Inman academy proposal would give the building FEWER students AND involve busing! I like the East Atlanta MS and HS idea because it would keep the building full AND with the local kids that actually live in the area!!


March 20th, 2012
8:04 am

A human being is not attaining his full heights until he is educated. You can get degree so fast from your local colleges or search for High Speed Universities article online

Happy Kine and The Mirth Makers

March 20th, 2012
8:22 am

And yet another load trucked in load from the local landfill and another group of kids headed strait to prison.

But “Its all good.”

Johnny Too Good

March 20th, 2012
8:39 am

Lol positive news, but still alot of negative attitudes, however I am compelled to agree with This Nana

To East Atlanta

March 20th, 2012
8:44 am

Aren’t you forgetting something?
Just because you zone people for a “all into one school, Coan,” doesn’t mean people will attend the school.
I mean, look at the numers now. People already zoned for Coan don’t go to Coan.
And aren’t you hi-jacking the topic here?

Good News and Bad News

March 20th, 2012
8:50 am

So Georgia gave diplomas to more students than before. That sounds positive at first glance but the story is avoiding the 600 pound gorilla in the room, which is, of those students who were awarded diplomas, are they really performing and understanding at a high school graduate level? Are we really giving quality educations to more kids or are we socially promoting them to make us look better. As someone who hires people, I see a lot of ignorant graduates, even college graduates.
For us to either cheer this news or scoff at this news, we need more facts. Where are the facts we need? Are these graduates really understanding and performing at a high school graduate level? Are they prepared for college? Without these answers, this is not a news story. It’s just a PR piece.

Just don't care

March 20th, 2012
9:03 am

Whether some want to admit it or not, there are many students whose only goal is to make a 70. I have taught hundreds of theses students and they honestly don’t care. they realize that all these educational reforms have put the onus on the teacher not them. They know attendance, tardiness, and class disruptions don’t matter. Schools will do all they can to get them to graduation.

East Atlanta

March 20th, 2012
9:52 am

True, but there’s a much better chance East Atlantans would choose to attend a true community school if given the option. This is an opportunity to turn lemons into lemonade.

Yes, I totally hijacked the topic, but time is short and Erroll Davis challenged the Coan community to come up with an answer besides simply saying “save our school.”


March 20th, 2012
10:08 am

It is really pitiful when a 68% drop out rate is considered a success. How sad. When I was in high school it was 98%.. Parents need to get more involved and they need to take the video game away. Parents today are so lazy. Day care raises their children and TV and computer games baby sit them.


March 20th, 2012
10:15 am

@ East Atlanta, that’s not a bad idea, although I don’t think you could get Erroll to switch to a 6-12 model.
As for the original topic, I completely agree. Let’s make it really easy to graduate, then more kids will graduate! Kind of similar to ‘let’s alter test scores, then more kids will pass!’

C Jae of EAV

March 20th, 2012
10:25 am

@East Atlanta – Rather than hijack this forum, your goals would be better advanced by engaging your audience directly outside of this blog and/or requesting Maureen consider starting a seperate blog thread devoted to your aim.

But since you asked, I will repeat my suggestion from last week, if the Coan community want to save the school, vote to convert it into a Charter. You not only will demontrate the resolve of the community and its partners to make it work, you will force the hand of Dr. Davis & the APS board and the Coan Community will then have direct control over the school’s governance and its fiscal budget.

The rub in my suggestion is that the Coan Community really has to want what they say they want. Time to put up or shut up….

C Jae of EAV

March 20th, 2012
10:34 am

Having addressed the hijacker, now back to the topic. The referenced report is filled with alot of data, but I’m not sure it tells us much about what’s happening in GA. Considering that there has only been a uniform method of tracking/reporting HS grad rates since effectively this school year what are we to make of the myrid of figures spouted in the context of what’s really happening in GA.

The case study examination of GA (pg 35-37), did little to engender greater confidence. I felt like it was mostly a puff piece. There is alot of information to absorb in this published report, but on the surface I’ll say while there may be some sparks of success looming on the horizon, there is a considerable amount of work to do.

Curious to see the QBE funding formula raised as a success story in the GA case study considering the continued debate over its depth of its imperfections.

@Just dont care

March 20th, 2012
10:44 am

I am in the same boat and I completely agree.

Once Again

March 20th, 2012
10:45 am

Handing out a diploma to someone who cannot effectively read, write, or most importantly think is no sign of success. Just keep lowering the bar and the graduation rates will skyrocket.

Why do you parents continue to put your children into these schools?

Please go watch this unbelievably thorough series on the history of “public” education. You owe it to yourselves and your children.

@ C Jae

March 20th, 2012
11:01 am

Turning Coan into a MS&HS would solve the Grady and Inman overcrowding problems.

But turning Coan into a charter school would only create more district-wide problems by drawing students from other underpopulated schools. (Grady and Inman students would likely choose to stay put.)

Erroll Davis isn’t going to save Coan at the expense of other schools, so there has to be a win-win to it. The MS&HS concept provides the win-win.

(I’m done with the hijack. Thanks.)

Slade Gilwater

March 20th, 2012
11:06 am

Surely you folks don’t believe any of the nonsense put out by the US Government office of BS. Statistics can say anything you want them to say, all of you know that. Our public schools are a tragedy and control should be returned to the states where it belongs. Nothing short of this will do anything to improve them.

Really amazed

March 20th, 2012
11:13 am

@Nana, spot on!!! Dumb down it all so ALL con graduate. Did anyone read or hear about Georgia being the #1 state for corruption yesterday??? I wonder if the DOE was considered part of it?? @Once again, too many parents that might even dare watch the you tube, will just turn their heads and say NOT our school.

@ Brit

March 20th, 2012
11:39 am

Yes, that’s a hurdle, but K-12 works pretty well at many private schools in Atlanta. So, the key is stressing that 6-12 could be a nurturing, super successful concept that provides a workable model for underpopulated schools going forward.


March 20th, 2012
12:39 pm

Does anyone really believe that the cheating in the APS was limited only to standardized tests. When an environment is created in which meeting certain goals is more important than imparting knowledge, cheating and cutting corners will seep into every aspect of that environment. If the state and federal government says graduation rates are important, they will improve. Doesn’t mean more people have earned a degree, just that they have been given one.


March 20th, 2012
12:57 pm

These are real results. So what we are doing is apparently having positive impact. This is time to double down on what is working, not go off on some baby with the bathwater state charter school scam which will only benefit special interests and the 1%. And what is working is not very glamorous but just common sense solutions.


March 20th, 2012
1:05 pm

Slade Gilwater: Where were you when bush proclaimed there were WMD in Iraq?

Chris Murphy

March 20th, 2012
2:26 pm

Maureen, I’m sure you’re familiar with this site at the state DOE, but look at the number of seniors (no the # of those graduating, just those enrolled as seniors) vs. the numbers that had enrolled as freshmen, and tell me APS isn’t a dire emergency.

bootney farnsworth

March 20th, 2012
2:54 pm

graduation on a curve.

Top School

March 20th, 2012
4:36 pm

Another attempt to keep your head spinning in another direction …while keeping you from noticing who is really behind the cheating scandal. Keep spinning the news about APS and soon you can close the can of worms the AJC opened on those connected folk in the business community. The cash cow has almost been buried under the barn. One more story of the accolades of APS now under Erroll Davis should do it!

Ole Guy

March 20th, 2012
6:15 pm

Does the Ole Guy detect a mild propensity to hide one’s head in the sand of self-induced ignorance? APS, for example, is recognized for their EFFORTS in…blah blah blah. Since frequin when is effort the major focus? I thought the focus was on RESULTS. This very statement reflects the depths to which the educational system has decended…a new low in the celebration of mediocrity.

To the East Atlanta hijacker...

March 20th, 2012
6:39 pm

You wrote “time is short and Erroll Davis challenged the Coan community to come up with an answer besides simply saying “save our school.”
…then please do something other than hijack a blog topic. It isn’t working. Go out and recruit members of your community to get what you want instead of whining on a blog.

Uh, oh

March 20th, 2012
7:17 pm

Did anyone happen to see Maureen’s story on the list of “focus” schools? The beloved and acclaimed Grady High School is on that list or graduation rates, so what now? Redraw the lines again!

Maureen Downey

March 20th, 2012
10:05 pm

Uh oh, I am wondering about that.
A reader noted that “Grady’s graduation rate for the past year was 88.5% according to the GA DOE site. It was only 51% for SWD. Decatur HS had an 88.4% graduation rate and a 45% pass rate for SWD. Why is Grady flagged and Decatur is not?”
I am reading the criteria now to see if I can figure it out. Anyone understand it?

Ed Johnson

March 20th, 2012
11:02 pm

The faster dropouts happen early on, the better graduation rates look later on. The upper limit kicks in when all potential dropouts drop out then 100% graduation. Simple enough, yes?

Grammar Police

March 21st, 2012
5:38 am

The graduation rate should improve now that they have removed the graduation exam. Also, schools can transfer out students that are at risk of not graduating and make their numbers look better (see Hall County – not cheating, mind you, just gaming the system, no firings, please).

Proud Educator

March 21st, 2012
9:18 am

Maureen, the difference with Grady and Decatur High is you must have at least 30 students in your subgroup to qualify. The new measures look at the gap between the highest performing subgroup and the lowest performing. Although Grady has a smaller gap between their white student subgroup and SWD, they have 35 SWD students. Decatur only has 20 so that population is too small to be included. Hope this helps!

Maureen Downey

March 21st, 2012
10:56 am

@Proud Educator, Thanks. DOE tells me that you are “exactly right” in your explanation.

East Atlanta

March 21st, 2012
4:08 pm

@ GM: Well, it did work a bit. A lot of well connected people read this blog. And by the way, I presented an idea, you did the whining. Relax, son.

Coan was revolutionary by being the first middle school in the state in the 1960s, and it can again be revolutionary by being the first 6-12 school in the APS.


March 21st, 2012
11:15 pm

FYI — I’ve been troubled by the way the grad rate has been “calculated” and have been trying to figure it out — remember I “know” DCSS — my son’s HS school in DCSS — class of 2010 — began 9th grade with 525 kids — they came out of middle school with about 375 (2 full teams of 125 and 2 3/4 teams of about 75) — we were confused as freshmen parents — where did the kids come from? Returning from private… returning from Chamblee … AYP…. NCLB transfers… and “froshmores” … It turned out that there was a 50% fail rate on all subjects for each of the disciplines — math, music, gym, language, language arts, biology..etc. all subjects 50% (give or take) by mid-year. By the time we pulled out to go private, mid-way Junior year, he was kid no. 304. The class graduated 272. Atlanta Magazine reported the graduation rate for this school at 88% … Huh? Someone said it was the number of kids beginning senior year and then graduating… okay — he left mid-way Junior year so by then the class had 303 kids, they graduated 272 — and they would have “picked up” a few from the alternative school so that makes sense — 10% of 303 is about 30 kids. But that’s not a “true” graduation rate — the true rate is 525 to 272… almost 50% “lost” but you’d need to add back in the 50-75 who went private or transferred to other schools and graduated. They game it but I haven’t totally figured it out. People dispute my numbers but I was so shocked by them that I was really paying attention to them. Out of this class, one girl graduated a year early and one girl died of a heroine overdose. We can name 50-70 kids who did what we did and pulled private. The rest?