Record number of students are graduating, but it's not all good news

US Graduation Rates At An All Time High
It's an achievement that federal officials and education activists are applauding as a key indication that reforms are on the right track. A record 82 percent of high school students graduated in 2014, according to data released Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Education.

The all-time high is up 1 percent over last year's rate, and it's up 3 percent since 2011. With 90.5 percent of the Class of 2014 graduating on time, Iowa had the highest graduation rate in the country, while Washington, D.C. had the lowest, with only 61.4 percent of students graduating on time.

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U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan gave credit for the jump where it was due. "The hard work of teachers, administrators, students and their families has made these gains possible and as a result many more students will have a better chance of going to college, getting a good job, owning their own home, and supporting a family," said Duncan in a statement. "We can take pride as a nation in knowing that we're seeing promising gains, including for students of color."

Although the graduation rate for black and Hispanic students still lags behind white students, the gap is narrowing. In 2014, 87.2 percent of white students graduated, compared to 76.3 percent of Hispanic students and 72.5 percent of black students. And although the latest black-white graduation gap was 14.8 percentage points, that's down from 17 during in 2010-2011 school year. Meanwhile the Hispanic-white graduation gap decreased from 13 to 11 percentage points during the same time period.

Theprogress was applauded by leaders of the GradNation campaign, an effort that pools the resources of several national education organizations in order to increase the graduation rate to 90 percent. But GradNation also cautioned that not everything about the federal data is encouraging.

"First, for the first time in four years, the country is not on track to reach the national goal of a 90 percent on-time high school graduation rate by 2020, missing by just a few tenths of a percent," said GradNation in a statement. "Second, while there have been some significant gains for key subgroups, the nation continues to suffer from gaps in graduation rates affecting students of color, students from low-income families, students with disabilities and English-language learners."

GradNation also cautioned that schools must continue to implement reforms and "eliminate what we know is not working, including suspension and expulsion policies that have a disparate impact on young people of color and students with disabilities."

With the era of No Child Left Behind at an end plenty of parents, educators, and policy makers may be wondering whether new legislation will keep the gains on track. Arne Duncan, who will step down as Secretary of Education at the end of this year, offered The Washington Posthisopinion on what could tank the upward trajectory: "A lack of urgency, a lack of creativity and, frankly, a lack of strategy."

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