A report released by GradNation yesterday announced exciting new education gains in the US. For the first time in American history, the high school graduation rate has reached 80 percent. The 2014 Building a Grad Nation Annual Update was released at the GradNation Summit in Washington, DC.

Key findings from the report:

  • The high school graduation rate, as measured by the Averaged Freshman Graduation Rate, increased from 71.7 percent in 2001 to 81 percent in 2012.
  • If this average rate of improvement of 1.3 percentage points per year is maintained during the next eight years, the nation will reach its 90 percent graduation rate goal by 2020.
  • Since 2006, gains in graduation rates have been driven by a 15-percentage point increase for Hispanic students and a 9-percentage point increase for African American students.

“It is amazing to a part of this incredible GradNation alliance,” said City Year’s CEO and Co-Founder Michael Brown, who spoke during today’s GradNation Summit morning session, “Youth Perspective: The School Day”. City Year AmeriCorps members “fired-up” the crowd with a morning greeting – an enthusiastic cheer by corps members that welcome students to school each morning to encourage a positive school environment – and an example attendance call corps members often make to students who fail to come to school, to demonstrate ways that corps members help students stay on track.

The findings of the “2014 Building a Grad Nation” report, provide confirmation that City Year’s targeted interventions are working at the schools where we serve. Within the report, City Year was highlighted as one of several high impact non-profits that have re-tooled themselves to bring an evidence-based approach (early warning systems) to help students stay on track to graduate. City Year and the Diplomas Now collaborative are also featured in a case study on what is working within the report, which focuses on the outstanding success of one Diplomas Now school, Clinton Middle School in Los Angeles, CA.

Although there is still work to be done to address the dropout crisis in America, this news puts City Year on track for the second year in a row to reach our Long Term Impact Strategy and a 90 percent graduation rate by 2020.

The report provides tremendous validation for City Year’s Long Term Impact Strategy:

To help our nation reach 90% graduation, we must ensure over the next 10 years that 80% of the students in the schools City Year serves reach 10th grade successfully (up from the current 44%). City Year is focusing on working in the communities where the dropout challenge is most concentrated. Our goal is to serve in the cities that account for two-thirds of the nation’s urban dropouts.

“What [City Year] is hoping, is that national service can be seen as a game-changing human capital solution that can help take evidence based practices and education reforms that work to scale,” said Brown, addressing the need for scaled strategies to support the goal of a 90 percent graduation rate.

While the report outlines the approaches that have led to these positive gains, it also states that serious achievement gaps remain, and highlights several key drivers that the nation needs to address in order to reach the 90% graduation goal. Two examples are:

  1. Closing the opportunity gap for low-income students: In nearly half the states, it is the norm for middle- and high-income students to graduate. However, in only six states do low-income students graduate at or above the national average. While the graduation gap between income groups varies widely by state, it’s evident that the majority of states will not reach the 90% goal without targeted efforts to increase the achievement of low-income students.
  2. Solving the big city challenge: While there are nearly 200 fewer dropout factories in urban areas in 2012 than in 2002, more than half of those remaining are located in large urban areas. Most big cities with high concentrations of low-income students have graduation rates in the 60s, with a few in the 50s. 

These key areas, and more, continue to highlight the importance of City Year’s Long-Term Impact Strategy and the need to reach the right students at the right schools.  The challenges that students, schools and cities face each day are significant, and City Year has an increased opportunity and an increased responsibility to be part of the solution.

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