Kentucky Narrows Graduation Gap Between Low- and High-Income Students


High school graduation rates for low-income students are, on average, 15 percentage points lower nationally than for their higher-income peers.

Not true in Kentucky.

“Kentucky is a state with rates of poverty that exceed the nation’s, but with graduation rates for low-income students that are its envy,” writes John M. Bridgeland, president and CEO of Civic Enterprises, and Robert Balfanz, director of the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University, in the foreword of a new study.

The two organizations released For All Kids: How Kentucky is Closing the High School Graduation Gap for Low-Income Students this week to provide insights to other states and districts working to close graduation gaps of all kinds.

Kentucky’s graduation gap between low-income students and their peers was just 1 percentage point in 2013 and 7 percentage points in 2014, showcasing “steady improvement since 2003.”

The report’s authors, Joanna Hornig Fox, Erin S. Ingram and Jennifer L. DePaoli, cite four factors that have contributed to the state’s progress “in an era of higher standards and at a time when the number of low-income students has dramatically risen.”

  1. Slow and steady wins the race. Kentucky’s been at this for more than 25 years. After the state supreme court found Kentucky’s public school funding system unconstitutional, legislators took a new look at education funding, governance, and curriculum.

The Kentucky Education Reform Act, passed in 1990, “kick-started the process of making school funding more equitable, providing increased support to struggling districts, improving data systems, and engaging parents and community in improving their local schools.”

But this work takes time and tenacity, the report notes. Without “steady, persistent and focused leadership and commitment to children and the state’s future, it is doubtful that the reforms that KERA began would have made such positive changes.”

To read more, go to America’s Promise Alliance.

Will High School Graduation Rates Reach 90% by 2020?

The majority of black and brown high school students you encounter every day—a startling 63%—attend low-graduation-rate high schools.

In the “greatest nation in the world,” nearly 1 million students attend low-graduation-rate high schools—that is, schools that have an Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate of 67% or below, as defined by the Every Student Succeeds Act.

These sobering statistics are included in a report released by Civic Enterprises and the Everyone Graduates Center at the Johns Hopkins University, in partnership with America’s Promise Alliance and the Alliance for Excellent Education, the four organizations that lead the GradNation campaign.

The 2016 Building a Grad Nation report is the seventh annual update on the challenges states and school districts encounter in their efforts to increase high school graduation rates to 90% by 2020. To stay on track to reach that goal, the national graduation rate needs to increase by 1.3 percentage points annually. The year 2014 is the first year that the rate fell short, increasing just .9%.

If the needs of students who have historically been underserved—particularly students of color and low income students—are not addressed, the graduation rate of 90% will not be met in 2020. The emphasis must be on all students.

“Regardless of the type of school,” said John Bridgeland, president and CEO of Civic Enterprises, in a statement, “we must insist upon results and ensure that every student receives a high quality education. We need to get beyond labels and get all students what they need to succeed.”

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According to the report, in 41 states low income students made up more than 40% of the enrollment in low-graduation-rate high schools; in 12 of those states, low income students made up more than 75% enrollment.

In 15 states, black students made up more than 40% of enrollment in high schools that have a graduation rate of 67% or less.

The report exposes the racial and socio-economic isolation of these underserved students, not only in regular district high schools, but also in charters (30% of which have low graduation rates), alternative schools (which serve at-risk students, 60% of whom are students of color), and virtual schools.

The report includes policy recommendations, including requiring states to develop evidence-based plans to improve low-graduation-rate high schools. It is distressing to note that some states do much better with difficult student populations than others. Would that ineffective states were required to explain why they are not using methods that other states have found more successful.

For more information about the 2016 GradNation report, visit this website.

New Data Highlights Growing High School Graduation Gaps

(Image: File)

This post was originally published on the website of America’s Promise Alliance. It is reprinted here with permission.

The nation’s high school graduation rate recently reached a record high of 82.3%, driven largely by improvements among traditionally underserved students. But significant gaps remain, particularly for low-income students, according to a new data brief from the GradNation campaign.

[Related: Graduation Rates Rise, But Do Diplomas Have Value?]

The 2016 Building a Grad Nation Data Brief: Overview of 2013-14 High School Graduation Rates released by Civic Enterprises and Everyone Graduates Center, in partnership with America’s Promise Alliance and the Alliance for Excellent Education, shows that nationally 74.6% of low-income students graduated on time compared to 89% of non-low income students—a 14.4 percentage point gap.

The Data Brief was released as part of the GradNation campaign, led by America’s Promise, to raise high school graduation rates to 90% by 2020.

(Check your state’s progress in reaching 90% for all students.)

The Gap Facing Low income Students

Nearly half—47%—of the nation’s 2014 graduating class came from low-income families, and nearly two-thirds of the states have public school student populations that are at least 40% low income.

“In low-graduation-rate schools, low-income students are overwhelmingly the largest subgroup represented,” said Rachael Fortune, a director of alliance engagement at America’s Promise. “Clearly, this is a segment of students that must be better supported if the country is to graduate 90% of all students by 2020. We encourage state and local leaders to use data to set goals, then re-double efforts to reach them.”

Sixteen states graduate less than 70% of low-income students. In those states, researchers estimate that nearly 191,000 low-income students did not graduate on time with a traditional diploma.

The graduation gap between low-income and non-low income students ranges from a high of 25.6 percentage points in South Dakota to a low of 4 percentage points in Indiana.

States with Biggest Gaps for Low income Students

Size of Income Gap in HS Grad Rate vs. Non-Low income Student Grad Rates

Low income Grad Rate
















Minnesota Tackles Low income Gap

Despite an overall graduation rate of 81.2%, the research shows that Minnesota has one of the nation’s largest graduation gaps between low income and non-low income students—23.6 percentage points.

Four out of 10 students in the state of Minnesota are low income and they are graduating at a rate of nearly 70%. Minnesota still has almost 7,300 students enrolled in low-graduation-rate high schools, defined as schools that have a graduation rate of less than 67%.

But Minnesota is working to change those numbers.

The GradNation State Activation Initiative, a three-year grant collaboration between America’s Promise Alliance and Pearson, helps support a statewide campaign to mobilize Minnesotans to increase graduation rates for all students.

One of the grantees, Minnesota Alliance with Youth, through its GradMinnesota initiative, is driving the work through the development of a statewide communications campaign, the creation of a comprehensive online resource library for educators and practitioners, and the endorsement of legislation that advances the group’s seven recommendations.

GradMinnesota is a statewide coalition in partnership with the governor’s office and the Minnesota Department of Education.

Based on research, effective practices, input from young people and other key stakeholders, GradMinnesota offers seven key recommendations to increase student engagement and raise high school graduation rates. These include

  • replacing exclusionary disciplinary policies with more effective alternatives;
  • heeding data-based early warning indicators and providing targeted support to students who are disengaging;
  • providing transportation to ensure equitable access to learning opportunities such as after school programs, alternative learning centers, or college courses.

Educators across the state are adopting strategies that will work for their students.

At West Education Center Alternative School in Minnetonka, Minnesota, Alexia Poppy-Finley, assistant supervisor, said, “We pride ourselves on strong relationships with students. It’s an approach that helps the teachers and staff address the whole student and respond to emotional and social as well as academic needs.”