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Graduation rates are up, but education secretary says it's far from 'mission accomplished'

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan
Tim Lloyd | St. Louis Public Radio

The high school graduation rate has hit an all-time high in America of 81 percent, and in Missouri it climbed to 85.7 percent during the 2013-14 school year. As more students earned high school diplomas, the gap between graduation rates for white and minority students also began to narrow, both nationally and in Missouri.    


Yet, the disparity remains striking. For example, the data show a 16 percentage point difference between the graduation rate of white and black students nationally, and in Missouri the gap is roughly the same. Last school year in Missouri, the four-year graduation rate for white students was close to 91 percent and 75 percent for African-American students.


U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called the numbers encouraging, but added that by no means do they represent “mission accomplished.”  During an interview with St. Louis Public Radio, he talked about disparities in graduation rates and other issues related to school equity.   



During the interview, Duncan said:

  • When it comes to long-standing disparities between the graduation rates for white and minority students, more should be done to reject the status quo at schools that have become “dropout factories.” Struggling schools need extra resources, such as school counselors.
  • Not all students who graduate from high school are college and career ready. The goal can’t simply be to hand out more diplomas, said Duncan. Schools have to make sure that students are fully prepared to enter the next phase of their academic or professional lives.
  • There is a “discipline gap” in terms of suspensions for minority and white students, and in some places the so-called school-to-prison pipeline is very real. Duncan said the solution starts with understanding the root causes for a child’s misbehavior before issuing a suspension.    
  • No matter their party, politicians need to view education as the best investment that can be made with public dollars, especially with leveling the playing field between schools in rich and poor areas.    


Tim Lloyd was a founding host of We Live Here from 2015 to 2018 and was the Senior Producer of On Demand and Content Partnerships until Spring of 2020.