Grad Nation: Building a Grad Nation, Progress and Challenge in Ending the High School Dropout Epidemic, 2019-2020 Annual Update

The COVID-19 pandemic and protests against systemic racism have shaken the nation in recent months. While the data presented in this report for the 2017–18 school year predated these crises, these events have further highlighted the glaring opportunity and achievement gaps in education for students of color and from various backgrounds. In addition to presenting an update to the nation on progress and challenge in increasing high school graduation rates on a path to postsecondary and workforce readiness, this report also addresses some of the gaps, barriers, and innovations seen across school systems to strengthen the nation’s educational response to these crises and help prepare for those in the future. It also unveils a “Meeting the Moment” plan of action to reach national goals and to ensure that these moments of crisis are used to re-envision education and to leverage what is most important to boost academic and other outcomes for children and youth.
Since 2001, the nation has been committed to reaching a 90 percent high school graduation rate and the GradNation campaign has had a focused effort to reach that goal by the Class of 2020. Steady progress has been made toward this goal. After 30 years of stagnating graduation rates from the 1970s to the early 2000s, the country has seen 14 consecutive years of increasing graduation rates since 2004. In 2018, the nation once again reached an all-time high national graduation rate of 85.3 percent and 3.8 million more students have graduated rather than dropping out over the past 20 years. Notably, gains in high school graduation rates have been driven by improvements among underserved students, with increases driven by Black students (12 percentage point increase since 2011), Hispanic students (10 percentage points), low-income students (9.5 percentage points), and students with disabilities (8.1 percentage points). These increases have all out-paced the national rate of increase of 6.3 percentage points and have persisted into postsecondary education, with Hispanic and Black students more than doubling their enrollment rates, and low-income students enrolling at rates that match their middle-income peers. Still, there is crucial work to be done. The nation is currently off-pace to reach its 90 percent high school graduation rate goal, which would have required graduating an additional 174,152 students on-time in 2018. Across the nation, there remain serious gaps in providing an equal education to all students. Most students attend high schools with a graduation rate already at 90 percent or higher, but a disproportionate number of four-year nongraduates remain trapped in a subset of schools where the graduation rate is less than half that rate at only 41.8 percent. Students who are low-income, Black, Hispanic, English Learners, American Indian, experiencing homelessness, and have disabilities are all overrepresented in these schools where less than half the class graduates from high school, calling into question equal opportunity for students, regardless of race, ethnicity, socio-economic background, or other factors. Now, more than ever is the time to commit to meeting the moment on high school graduation and redoubling our efforts to prepare students for the rigors of postsecondary education, training, and work. As such, this report lays out an in-depth Meeting the Moment plan of action that targets the remaining non-graduates, identifies critical metrics to strengthen the school to work pipeline, and provides detailed data that will allow states, in a spirit of equity, to develop locally-tailored efforts to support their students' graduations, ready for college, work, and civic life. The report also includes best practices in improving high school graduation rates and strengthening the school-to-work pipeline, highlights ongoing issues with high school accountability, and presents recommendations for policy and practice.
Grad Nation, Dropout Crisis