Graduation Day Math

Facts and figures don't always tell straightforward stories. And that applies to the numbers that reflect high school graduation rates.

Dietrich White is a former dropout who tells us, "They said I wasn't going to graduate until I was 21, so they had to let me go."

Evelinda Dixon also went down that path, recalling, "I didn't know what I was going to do. And I know that I didn't want to just be out in the world with nothing."

Dietrich and Evelinda are what some educators might call disappearing dropouts.

Harvard University's Civil Rights Project and the Urban Institute find that nationwide, only two of every three ninth graders make it through the 12th grade on time. That's 66% achieving on-time graduations.

While numbers like that are afloat, states like Nebraska and Iowa have, for years, reported graduation rates of 90% or more.

The reason that the numbers have been incongruous is that kids who dropped out before their senior year were just dropped from the count. Only those in the 12th grade were marked as dropouts.

Now, the federal government has forced a change in the way the rate is reported.

Nebraska Education Commissioner, Dr. Doug Christensen, says, "The current one, based on the four-year holding power of a school from freshman through graduation, is about 86.5%.

A closer look at the numbers from the Harvard Civil Rights Study shows a disturbing comparison along racial lines.

  • Just under 82% of white students graduate on time.
  • Among African American students, the rate falls to just 45%.
  • Among Hispanics, the rate is just under 47%.

    Dr. Christiansen says, "You can't have a school that's any better than the quality of the family and you can't have a school that's any better than the quality of the community. Anytime education doesn't work for a kid, I don't care who the kid is, we need to work on it."

    The Education Commissioner says the top third of our students are performing better than ever but students in the bottom third are doing worse than ever and it's not just about schools and teachers and how tax dollars are spent.

    He says the problems include:

  • Poverty
  • Broken families
  • Uninvolved parents
  • Challenged neighborhoods.

    In the Omaha Public Schools, one effort to break this cycle begins when children are still in grade school.

    Jerry and Cookie Hoberman created the Winners Circle to help add structure and support for kids who have little or none.

    The Omaha Street School, a private school, targets older students who've already dropped out and this second chance has been a real safety net for Dietrich White and Evelinda Dixon.

    Dixon says, "I really can't tell you what I would be doing, because I don't know. But I can tell you it wouldn't have been as good as this.

    The Winner's Circle reaches out to schools with test scores falling under 50 percent. It is in six Omaha Public Schools now and the goal is to hopefully reach as many as 20.

    For recent drop outs, the Omaha Street School is an option.

  • The Winner's Circle
  • Omaha Street School
    Phone: 451-5234 ext. 156


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