Study: Kids less likely to get diploma than parents

Your child is less likely to graduate from high school than you were, and most states are doing little to hold schools accountable, according to a study by a children's advocacy group.

More than half the states have graduation targets that don't make schools get better, the Education Trust says in a report released Thursday. The numbers are dismal: One in four kids are dropping out of school, a rate that hasn't budged for at least five years.

“The U.S. is stagnating while other industrialized countries are surpassing us,” said Anna Habash, author of the report by Education Trust, which advocates on behalf of minority and poor children. “And that is going to have a dramatic impact on our ability to compete,” she said.

In fact, the U.S. is now the only industrialized country where young people are less likely than their parents to earn a diploma, the report said, citing data compiled by the international Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

High schools are required to meet graduation targets every year as part of the 2002 federal No Child Left Behind law. But those targets are set by states, not by the federal government. And most states allow schools to graduate low percentages of students by saying that any progress, or even the status quo in some cases, is acceptable.

In North Carolina, schools must improve by 0.1 percentage point each year. At that rate, it would take nearly a century to raise the graduation rate, now 72 percent, to the state goal of 80 percent. It would take an additional 95 years for the state's African American students and 180 years for its Latino students to reach the same goal.

In South Carolina, as well as Delaware and New Mexico, no student group will ever actually have to reach the state goal as long as the current graduation rate is sustained each year, the report says.

School officials are under pressure to improve test scores under the No Child Left Behind education law or face penalties. But they got a break on graduation rates: Schools must meet annual goals, but the government lets each state set its own goal.

So in North Carolina, the graduation goal has not changed. Officials are coming up with a new goal but are hoping No Child Left Behind will be rewritten to be less punitive.

“To be candid, we're waiting for NCLB to change,” said N.C. schools Superintendent June Atkinson. “Those numbers do not tell the story. Our mission is that 100 percent of our students will graduate from high school. Needless to say, we have a lot of work to do.”