Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

DROPOUTS; Beating the Odds

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

DROPOUTS; Beating the Odds

Article excerpt

You can predict graduation rates.

Just factor in the positives like a good student-to-teacher ratio and large proportions of spending spent on instruction.

Factor in the negatives like a high rate of poverty and high racial and economic segregation.

Out comes a prediction of the percentage of students who will graduate from high school.

Education Week has spent several years identifying the factors that lead to better graduation rates and lower dropout rates.

Nationally, three of every 10 members of this year's high school class will fail to receive a diploma. That is 1.3 million students nationwide.

In Duval County, the latest graduation rate is 65 percent.

Recently, Education Week put together a statistical model on graduation rates.

This model helps identify which school districts beat the odds and which districts do worse than expected.

One of the highest correlations is poverty. It has many negative impacts on education.

If they can do it

Yet, some school districts beat the odds. Take Memphis, a city with a Southern culture similar to Jacksonville's.

In Jacksonville, slightly less than 50 percent of the students in the public schools are African-American. In Memphis, the percentage is 86 percent.

Take all the factors, and the graduation rate for Memphis ought to be 43 percent for the 2007 year, Education Week calculated. Instead, it was 19 percentage points higher, 62 percent.

Memphis is No. 3 among the school districts that beat the odds.

The school district there has received a $90 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Millions more will be coming from Tennessee's successful application for federal Race to the Top grants.

It should be noted that the way graduation rates are computed can vary.

For instance, Duval's relatively tough requirements - requiring four math courses and four science courses - sometimes make this district look worse in comparison.

Duval County also is less likely to off-load struggling students to adult education, which can make a significant improvement in graduation rates. …

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