District Mayor Muriel Bowser and D.C. Public School (DCPS) officials recently announced that the public high school graduation rate topped 70 percent during the 2016-2017 school year. This is a first for the school system since 2011 when the city began using the Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate (ACGR), a way of measuring high school completion rates for ninth-grade students through graduation.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser recently announced city’s high school graduation rate hit a new high. (Courtesy photo/mayor.dc.gov)

According to statistics released by the mayor’s office on Nov. 7, the 2016-2017 graduation rate for city public high schools grew 3.2 percent over the previous school year, with 72.4 percent of students graduating in a four-year period. The numbers are a stark contrast with 2011, when just more than half of the system’s students graduated in four years.

Public charter school graduation rates also increased to 73.4 percent, up from 72.9 percent.

Several schools have implemented initiatives aimed at bolstering sluggish graduation rates. At Anacostia High School in Southeast, D.C., where the graduation rate was only 58 percent last school year, DCPS launched a Public Safety Academy in partnership with the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department. The goal of the program is to prepare students with work-based learning and college-credit-earning opportunities in the criminal justice system. Last year, H.D. Woodson High School in Northeast D.C. initiated IT and engineering programs in an effort to generate students’ interest in STEM careers.

Kenady Gallmon is a 2017 graduate of Eastern Senior High School in Northeast, D.C. She said school programs designed to augment students’ interest in post-high school careers were “fun and memorable.”

“In order for the DCPS system to become better with preventing kids from dropping out a staff that feels like a family,” Gallmon, currently a student at North Carolina Central University, told the AFRO. “Having that feels like you have someone that cares for you inside a place of stress.”

While DCPS has successfully improved graduation rates overall, Black students still trail their White classmates. Black students’ graduation rates improved to 72 percent–12 points less than White students.

Socioeconomic factors such as poverty and lack of cultural exposure may play a role in African-American students’ faltering graduation rates, according to Dr. Lillian Lowery, vice president of policy, research and practice at The Education Trust. The District-based organization promotes academic success for children of all ages and specifically, low-income and minority students.

Lowery said educational barriers exist for “students who grow and learn in communities that do not have the same access to early social, emotional and intellectual development opportunities or exposure to varied cultural experiences – like living in safe and secure neighborhoods, having exposure to age-appropriate reading materials in the home and honing basic literacy and mathematical skills through lived experiences.”

According to a study conducted by the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River – where the majority of D.C.’s African-American community resides – faced a poverty rate three times higher than other District areas. The study also showed median incomes city-wide rose nearly 13 points from 2007 to 2015. However, median incomes for households east of the Anacostia remained stagnant at $34,000. Additionally, the report indicated “the poverty rate among children living east of the Anacostia River is 46 percent, compared with just 13 percent for children in the rest of the city.”

Students who graduate high school have better salary outcomes compared to those who dropout. According to 2016 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, full-time workers age 25 and older who did not earn a high school diploma made $494 weekly, while high schools graduates made $679 weekly. The number swells to $782 for workers with some college or an associate degree.

The skills and knowledge needed to ensure high school graduates who are prepared for college and career begins as early as prekindergarten,” Lowery told the AFRO.

Although graduation rates fell only points short of former DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson’s 75 percent goal, the mayor is striving to improve education advancements for city students with increased funding. Bowser’s 2018 fiscal year budget carved out $1.74 billion for public education, which is $121 million more than the previous year’s budget. According to the mayor’s office, this is the largest investment in public education in the city’s history.

Additionally, teachers’ contracts will dish out an additional $110.5 million to DCPS and $92.6 million to public charter schools over the next four years.

“Ten years ago, our city committed to giving all students a fair shot at success, and today, these historic graduation rates are more proof that our efforts and investments are paying off,” said Bowser in a statement. “These graduation rates are a reminder that when we have high expectations for our young people and we back up those expectations with robust programs and resources, our students can and will achieve at high levels.”