Florida’s high school graduation rate rocketed 23 percentage points to 72.9 percent between 2000 and 2010, putting the Sunshine State at No. 2 among states for progress over that span but still behind the national average, according to a new national report.
Only Tennessee did better, with a 31.5 percentage point gain, shows the annual Diplomas Count report from Education Week. The national rate was up 7.9 percent, to 74.7 percent.
Education Week, the country’s highly respected paper of record for education news, uses its own formula to calculate graduation rates.
Its findings are the latest in a stack from credible, independent sources that show Florida students and teachers are making some of the biggest academic gains in the country under a model distinguished by a tough, top-down accountability system and expanded parental school choice.
Florida ranks No. 44 in the percentage of students eligible for free- and reduced-price lunch (with the ranking going from lowest rate to highest), according to the latest federal figures. But the Education Week data puts it at No. 34 in graduation rates, ahead of states with less challenging student populations – and arguably better academic reputations – like Washington, North Carolina and Utah.
The gains also come despite tougher standards than other states. Among other things, Florida requires more academic credits to graduate than most states (24 to the national average of 21.1) and the passing of an exit exam (only 23 other states do).
Also notable: It’s Florida’s minority students – the focus of so many of the state’s reform efforts – who are fueling the surge. According to the Education Week figures, 77.1 percent of Florida’s Hispanic students graduated in 2010, 9 percentage points higher than the national average. Meanwhile, 70.1 percent of its black students graduated, besting the national average by 8.4 percentage points.
Nationally, the EdWeek report shows solid gains for the third year in a row. Vermont led with an 85.0 percent grad rate, followed by North Dakota (84.0), Wisconsin (83.7), Iowa (83.2) and New Jersey (83.1). At 59.4 percent, New Mexico was last, behind South Carolina (61.5), Nevada (62.7), Georgia (64.0) and Mississippi (64.4).