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'Crisis' graduation gap found between cities, suburbs
WASHINGTON — The likelihood that a ninth-grader in one of the nation's biggest cities will clutch a diploma four years later amounts to a coin toss — not much better than a 50-50 chance, new research finds.

Cross into the suburbs, and the odds improve dramatically.

The findings, which are being released today, look closely for the first time at the gap in high school graduation rates between public schools in the 50 biggest cities and the suburbs that surround them. Among the alarming disparities: In 12 cities, the gap exceeds 25 percentage points. Of those cities, nine are in the Northeast or Midwest.

The study was commissioned by America's Promise Alliance, a group of foundations, advocacy and non-profit organizations, and corporate and religious groups focusing on children's education, safety and health. It was founded by former general Colin Powell and is headed by his wife, Alma. The alliance plans a series of dropout-prevention summits in each state over the next two years.

GRADUATION RATES: 50 largest cities

Researcher Christopher Swanson, who analyzed 2004 graduation data from the Education Department, says the largest districts "contribute disproportionately to the nation's graduation crisis."

Collectively, they educate 1.7 million high school students — about one in eight. Yet they account for nearly one in four students who don't graduate each year.

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings calls the gap "unacceptable, especially now that 90% of our fastest-growing jobs require education or training beyond high school."

She plans to take administrative steps that will require states to use the same formula to calculate graduation rates, "and that they make it public so that people nationwide can compare how students of every race, background, and income level are performing."

For the report, Swanson used urban/suburban categories from the Education Department's Common Core of Data.

The value of the data is that it puts "some hard numbers behind our intuition" on the gap between urban and suburban graduation rates, Swanson says. "It's hard to act on intuition. It's easier to base policy on hard data."

Rick Dalton, president of College for Every Student, a Vermont group that helps low-income students prepare for college, says the urban/suburban gap "just speaks to the crisis in the U.S. It is about income. Family income drives it all."

Swanson, research director for Editorial Projects in Education, the Maryland non-profit that publishes Education Week, says, "If we can focus particular attention on these big-city districts, … I think it's possible to think that we'd see some movement on these national numbers."

Graduation rates by city

A study out today shows a stark difference between the graduation rates of urban students in the nation's 50 largest cities and their peers in suburban schools. The first chart below shows overall graduation rates and the second ranks the schools by how big the gap is in the urban-suburban graduation rates.

CityPrincipal School DistrictGraduation Rate (2003-04)
Mesa, ArizMesa Unified District77.1%
San Jose, Calif.San Jose Unified77.0%
NashvilleNashville-Davidson Co. School District77.0%
Colorado SpringsColorado Springs School District76.0%
San Francisco, Calif.San Francisco Unified73.1%
TucsonTucson Unified District71.7%
Seattle, Wash.Seattle School District67.6%
Virginia BeachVirginia Beach City Public Schools67.4%
SacramentoSacramento City Unified66.7%
Honolulu, HawaiiHawaii Department of Education64.1%
LouisvilleJefferson County School District63.7%
Long Beach, Calif.Long Beach Unified63.5%
Arlington, TexasArlington ISD62.7%
MemphisMemphis City School District61.7%
San Diego, Calif.San Diego Unified61.6%
AlbuquerqueAlbuquerque Public Schools60.8%
El PasoEl Paso ISD60.5%
CharlotteCharlotte-Mecklenburg Schools59.8%
WichitaWichita Public Schools59.6%
Phoenix, Ariz.Phoenix Union High School District58.3%
Austin, TexasAustin ISD58.2%
Washington, D.C.District of Columbia Public Schools58.2%
Fresno, Calif.Fresno Unified57.4%
Boston, Mass.Boston Public Schools57.0%
Fort WorthFort Worth ISD55.5%
OmahaOmaha Public Schools55.1%
Houston, TexasHouston ISD54.6%
Portland, Ore.Portland School District53.6%
Las Vegas, Nev.Clark County School District53.1%
San Antonio, TexasSan Antonio ISD51.9%
Chicago, Ill.City of Chicago School District51.5%
TulsaTulsa Public Schools50.6%
Jacksonville, Fla.Duval County School District50.2%
Philadelphia, Pa.Philadelphia City School District49.6%
Miami, Fla.Dade County School District49.0%
Oklahoma City, Okla.Oklahoma City Public Schools47.5%
Denver, Colo.Denver County School District46.3%
Milwaukee, Wis.Milwaukee Public Schools46.1%
Atlanta, Ga.Atlanta City School District46.0%
Kansas City, Mo.Kansas City School District45.7%
OaklandOakland Unified45.6%
Los Angeles, Calif.Los Angeles Unified45.3%
New York, N.Y.New York City Public Schools45.2%
Dallas, TexasDallas ISD44.4%
Minneapolis, Minn.Minneapolis Public Schools43.7%
Columbus, OhioColumbus Public Schools40.9%
Baltimore, Md.Baltimore City Public School System34.6%
Cleveland, OhioCleveland Municipal City School District34.1%
Indianapolis, Ind.Indianapolis Public Schools30.5%
Detroit, Mich.Detroit City School District24.9%
50-City Average51.8%
Source: EPE Research Center, 2008
NOTE: Graduation rates (2003-04) are calculated using the Cumulative Promotion Index method with data from the U.S. Department of Education's Common Core of Data.

CityUrban Graduation RateSuburban Graduation RateUrban-Suburban Gap (% points)
Baltimore, Md.34.6%81.5%47.0
Columbus, Ohio40.9%82.9%42.0
Cleveland, Ohio42.2%78.1%35.9
New York, N.Y.47.4%82.9%35.5
Denver, Colo.46.8%80.9%34.1
Philadelphia, Pa.49.2%82.4%33.3
Indianapolis, Ind.49.7%80.5%30.9
Chicago, Ill.55.7%84.1%28.4
Oklahoma City, Okla.52.9%81.2%28.3
Milwaukee, Wis.54.5%82.5%28.1
Detroit, Mich.47.9%75.0%27.1
Boston, Mass.58.1%83.0%24.9
Jacksonville, Fla.50.2%71.5%21.3
Los Angeles/Long Beach, Calif.57.1%77.9%20.7
Dallas/Fort Worth/Arlington, Texas55.8%74.7%18.9
Minneapolis, Minn.63.5%80.7%17.2
Fresno, Calif.60.3%76.2%15.9
Atlanta, Ga.46.1%61.8%15.7
Virginia Beach59.2%73.9%14.6
Washington, D.C.63.9%78.2%14.2
Kansas City, Mo.68.4%82.2%13.8
Portland, Ore.62.1%75.4%13.3
Austin, Texas64.7%77.5%12.9
Seattle, Wash.57.6%67.4%9.8
Houston, Texas61.6%71.0%9.3
San Francisco/Oakland73.2%81.2%7.9
San Antonio, Texas62.9%70.2%7.2
San Jose, Calif.80.9%84.1%3.2
El Paso66.0%68.0%2.1
San Diego, Calif.70.4%71.3%0.9
Phoenix/Mesa, Ariz.70.5%70.4%-0.1
Colorado Springs83.7%73.5%-10.2
Louisville/Jefferson Co., Ky. *69.4%
Las Vegas **53.1%
Miami, Fla. ***53.6%
Honolulu ****64.1%
50-Metro Area Average58.0%75.4%17.4
Source: EPE Research Center, 2008
* The Louisville-Davidson County metropolitan area is served by a combination of suburban and rural school districts.
** The Las Vegas metropolitan area coincides with Clark County, Nev., which is served by a single school district classified as suburban by the U.S. Department of Education.
*** The Miami metropolitan area is served by three countywide school districts, all classified as suburban by the U.S. Department of Education.
**** Honolulu's metropolitan area includes all of Hawaii and is served by a single statewide school district, classified as suburban by the U.S. Department of Education.
NOTE: Graduation rates (2003-04) are calculated using the Cumulative Promotion Index method with data from the U.S. Department of Education's Common Core of Data.

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