As a recent graduate, I spent much time this past summer reminiscing about my four years of high school. Thousands of Madison-area high school seniors, like myself, eagerly walked across the stage in order to receive high school diplomas. We were filled with joy to be finished with an important chapter in our education.
However, not all the students who started out with us as wide-eyed freshmen graduated this June. In fact, less than half of Madison’s African American students reached this goal.
* * * *
African American students consistently have poor graduation rates in Madison. They lag behind their White, Asian, Hispanic, and Native American peers. The graduation rate for white students in the 2010-2011 school year was 90 percent. Only 43 percent of African American students graduated. These numbers are dismal
There are also gaps among Madison’s four high schools. East has the lowest overall graduation rate at 78 percent, while West claims the highest rate at almost 94 percent. Even though geographic and financial standing affect overall graduation rates, there is no reason that students who attend East are one-fifth less likely to graduate high school than their West High counterparts.
Graduation rates of Black and Hispanic students in Madison are below the state average. It’s hard to understand why Madison—a city full of resources—cannot graduate more minority students. In the past five years MMSD has not met its percentage goal of 85.5 percent for Black and Hispanic students.
Perhaps the 85.5 percent goal was unrealistically high. After all, only 37 percent of African American high school seniors graduated in 2008. That’s a large feat to accomplish. While there has been progress, there have also been setbacks. In order to reach the goal of an 85.5 percent graduation rate, there needs to be a major change in how we educate students.
After four years of high school, and working at Simpson Street Free Press, here are some of my observations and suggestions.
* * * *
The issue actually begins long before a student ever sets foot into high school. Kindergarten and first grade are crucial to success. Those years are the foundation for a rest of the student’s schooling. If students do not learn how to read by the first grade, they are already behind. If students do not catch up, school will become difficult. That student is much more likely to check out. Let’s take preventive measures. Let’s help students who get off to a rocky start, stay on track.
To tackle poor African American graduation rates, we should focus on early elementary education and make sure students do not fall behind. We also need to identify different learning styles. For example, as a visual learner, it is more difficult for me to grasp a concept without a mental image. There are many learning styles among students, and it can be hard to reach every single student—but we can try.
Data shows that dropouts are more likely to be male, have poor attendance, have more than six school suspensions or be in special education classes. With this knowledge we can begin to tackle the problem systematically. One does not simply go from failing to an A student overnight—it takes diligence, hard work, a proactive mindset, and accountability. Many students who are behind do have these qualities. They want to succeed. Our community needs more, and more challenging, academic support programs—both in and out of school. We have said it many times in this newspaper: we don’t need more programs, we need more academic support programs.
We want every student who starts school as a high school freshman to finish as a high school graduate. We, all of us, simply must do better. School districts and communities must set manageable, short-term goals that can be achieved.