Defining his education legacy, Obama touts climbing graduation rates


According to the White House, during the 2014-2015 school year, more than 83 percent of high school students graduated in four years.
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WASHINGTON — The nation’s high school graduation rate reached its highest recorded peak in 2015 — although big disparities remain among African-American, Hispanic and low-income students, the White House said Monday.

President Obama highlighted the 83.2% graduation rate at a speech at a Washington, D.C. high school, an effort to define the eight years of the Obama presidency as a time of steady progress for student achievement across the county.

“We’ve made  a lot of progress,” Obama said. “To be honest with you, we’ve still got more work to do.”

Obama has touted the climbing graduation rate before, but usually as part of a longer list of domestic policy achievements. In his final State of the Union address in January, he told Congress that “together, we’ve increased early childhood education, lifted high school graduation rates to new highs, boosted graduates in fields like engineering.”

On Monday, Obama encouraged students at Washington’s Benjamin Banneker Academic High School not just to graduate, but to apply to college — and to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

The high school wasn’t chosen as the venue for Obama’s speech just because of its proximity to the White House. The District of Columbia saw the biggest one-year increase in graduation rates in the country last year, from 61.4% to 68.5%. And at Banneker, the graduation rate last year was 100 percent.

“It’s been a while since I did math, but 100% is good,” Obama said. “You can’t do better than that.”

According to Department of Education data to be released Monday, the overall graduation rate rose 0.9 percentage points from the 2013-2014 school year to 2014-2015. Since 2011, when the department first started reporting graduation rates in a more reliable way, the increase is 4.2 points.

Minority groups still lagged behind their white peers, but saw bigger gains over the past year: the graduation rate for black students rose to 74.6% (a 2.1 point increase); for Hispanic students to 77.8% (1.5 points), Native Americans to 76.1% (1 point), and low-income students to 76.1% (1.5 points).

Students learning English as a second language saw the biggest gains of any subgroup, a 2.5 point increase to 65.1%.

State-by-state results also show graduations rates rising almost everywhere. The exceptions: Arizona and Wyoming, which were down a fraction of a point, and three states — Idaho, Kentucky and Oklahoma — that only recently began to release high school graduation rates in a way that could be compared to other states.

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