On the more hopeful side, the report identifies 21 big-city “overachievers” that posted much higher graduation rates than would be expected based on a range of factors including demographics and poverty. Five such districts outpaced expectations by 18 percentage points or more: Newport-Mesa Unified in California; David Douglas in Portland, Ore.; Texarkana Independent in Texas; Memphis City in Tennessee; and Visalia Unified in California.
At Newport-Mesa, 86 percent graduated within four years, compared with the 57 percent that researchers calculated for the “expected” graduation rate. The district’s 22,000 students cover the gamut of socioeconomic backgrounds in Newport Beach and Costa Mesa. About 40 percent are Latino.
“When the school board hired me four years ago ... they said, ‘We don’t want to lose one single student,’ ” says Newport-Mesa superintendent Jeffrey Hubbard. “Students who are struggling in our comprehensive high schools have other alternatives,” he says, including hands-on classes at community colleges, where they can simultaneously work toward an associate’s degree.
Another reason Mr. Hubbard says graduation rates have improved: a collaborative approach to student progress. “We ask ourselves ... what do students need to learn ... and how do we respond if they’re not? [We] really look at whether kids are getting it,” he says.
“Diplomas Count” computes the percentage of public-school students who graduate with a standard high school diploma in four years by using a method known as the Cumulative Promotion Index, which enables comparisons across all districts.