Doing OK – need to do a lot better.


That’s the only conclusion to be drawn from recent data – local, statewide, nationwide – on high school graduation rates. Eastern Jackson County figures are better than those in many other places, but there is no time to rejoice or relax.

Doing OK – need to do a lot better.

That’s the only conclusion to be drawn from recent data – local, statewide, nationwide – on high school graduation rates. Eastern Jackson County figures are better than those in many other places, but there is no time to rejoice or relax.

Here’s some math from the annual Diplomas Count survey: Missouri has slowly made gains. In 1996, 70.4 percent of high school students graduated in four years, and that figure reached 75.3 percent in 2007.

It’s topped 76 percent a couple of times during that span and then dropped back but overall has shown steady improvement. Big picture: One freshman in four is not graduating in four years. That’s not acceptable.

The argument that things are OK because Missouri is doing better than the national rate carries no weight because the national average is terrible, slightly shy of 70 percent and showing only incremental gains during the last decade. And big states show some of the worst problems: California, 67.5 percent in 2006; Texas, 65.3 percent, New York, 68.3 percent and Florida a jaw-dropping 57.5 percent. California and Florida have essentially posted no progress for a decade while New York and Texas have gotten better.

On the other hand, even the best states get only a little higher than 80 percent.

How does Missouri compare with neighbors? Iowa has been around 80 percent for the last decade. Nebraska and Minnesota are just behind that, and Kansas has moved up to the 75 percent range. Our Midwestern neighbors – and economic competitors – are ahead of us.

Locally, every public high school in Eastern Jackson County reports sharply better figures than the statewide average, from 85.6 percent at William Chrisman High School in Independence and 88.1 percent at Fort Osage to 94.1 percent at Blue Springs High School and 94.9 percent at Van Horn. That represents a lot of effort by parents, teachers, administrators but mostly by students.

But we need to keep pushing harder. Even the most rigorous and accomplished high school only sets the table for the next two or four or even seven years of school that prepare young people for successful careers and that make them more well-rounded adults.
For one student in six (as at Chrisman) to not make it just cannot be an acceptable standard in our community. Even cutting that figure to one in 20 (Blue Springs, Van Horn) leaves limited options and narrower horizons for some.

Bottom line: Our schools do well with the resources they have but, to borrow a sadly misused phrase from earlier education policies, we cannot afford to leave any child behind.