by Seth Saavedra │Wednesday, February 28th, 2018
What does it mean to graduate from high school nowadays? With increasing graduation rates nationwide, alongside declining proficiencies in numerous cases, many of us in education have wondered what earning a high school diploma means for modern high school graduates? What does a diploma signify in New Mexico in 2018?
There is meaningful debate about what it means (or should mean) to graduate high school, touching on everything from performance on standardized tests to practical demonstrations of learning. Less contentious is this unassailable reality: a high school diploma remains the primary gateway into the middle class, and to a life of rich opportunity. For better or worse, a diploma is the final demonstration of value created by K-12 education.
I say this as a person without one of those embossed pieces of paper. I left high school one and a half credits shy of the finish line. I meandered a bit for a few years before finally getting my GED and starting community college. Looking back, I wish I had graduated with my fellow Knights.
The path without a high school diploma is, without question, harder. Many jobs require a diploma. Colleges and universities too, or at least the equivalent. Perhaps more damaging, the sense of shame and discouragement I felt took years to recover from. I ultimately turned those feelings into a positive, but many never bounce back. They wear what is largely systemic failure as a badge of personal dishonor.
New Mexico's 2017 Graduation Rates
Last Friday the New Mexico Public Education Department released statewide graduation rates for 2017. The highlights include:
- The overall rate remained flat at 71.1% (the U.S. rate is 84%);
- While Hispanic students have made progress, at 70.5% they remain 6% behind their White peers;
- American Indian students lost ground since last year, coming in at 61%;
- Economically Disadvantage students lag behind by 4.5% as well; and
- The last seven years show significant progress in every student group, including double-digits gains for students with disabilities, English learners, Hispanic and underprivileged students.
As someone obsessive about equity in education, I find these persistent gaps troubling yet unsurprising. And while the merits of using high school graduation rates as proxies for learning is suspect, what makes them particularly useful at the state level is exploring variances in district and school rates.
Our Largest Districts
My first instinct is to see how our largest districts performed. With about 220,000 students in the ten largest districts, this accounts for about two-thirds of all students in The Land of Enchantment. If you're a student in New Mexico, chances are you're in Albuquerque, Las Cruces, Rio Rancho, Santa Fe, Gadsden, Gallup, Farmington, Roswell, Hobbs, or Los Lunas. Albuquerque alone is home to 1 out of every 4 students.
I'll spend time looking at our many, many rural districts in later posts but below is what catches my attention for these ten districts.
Gadsden Continues to Impress
Outperforming the state in nearly every measure, the southern bordertown continues to earn its reputation for doing great things for their predominantly poor and Hispanic students. The results are impressive.
Hobbs, Las Cruces & Rio Rancho Lead the Pack
These districts outperform the state on EVERY measure, deserving of high praise. Rio Rancho beats the state average for American Indian Students by nearly 20%. Las Cruces outpaces the state by double digits in every category but one. Hobbs stands out for graduating their Economically Disadvantaged students at a rate higher than the overall statewide average.
Albuquerque, Farmington, Roswell & Santa Fe Lag Behind
All four of these districts trail the state in all measures but one or two. Santa Fe's and Farmington's rates for Students with Disabilities and African American students are appalling. Albuquerque's neglect of American Indian students continues. In Roswell, it's White students trailing by 10%. These four enroll 130,000 students and underserve nearly all of them.
Gallup & Los Lunas Show A Mixed Bag
While Gallup-McKinley beats the state average for American Indian students by 4%, their White and Female students lag behind. In Los Lunas, Native students outperform by 17.5% (surpassing White students statewide), yet African American students and English Learners underperform the state.
Next I'll take a look at our more rural districts, differences we see in district and charter schools, and explore which schools and districts are doing the most for our traditionally underserved populations. And PLEASE send topic ideas my way.