What to do after high school?

The annual “Diplomas Count” report has joined the growing discussion about the value of a college degree.

Report cover imageThe 2011 version of the yearly graduation study from Education Week is titled “Beyond High School, Before Baccalaureate: Meaningful Alternatives to a Four-Year Degree” and is the latest in a spate of studies examining the value of college degrees.

“With the nation’s economic recovery seemingly stuck in low gear, the need to better understand the link between learning and a career seems more critical than ever for high school students preparing to graduate and enter the next phase of their lives,” according to the report summary.

“In the drive to ensure that American students leave K-12 schools ‘college and career ready,’ the major emphasis has been on the ‘college’ part—and especially on four-year colleges. While that’s a widely lauded goal, it hasn’t panned out for everyone.”

While the Diplomas Count study has a different emphasis every year, it always updates high school graduation rates and related indicators for the nation, states and school districts.

Here’s a summary of what the latest study found:

“The national graduation rate stands at 71.7 percent for the class of 2008 – the highest level since the 1980s. This year’s analysis shows that, from 2007 to 2008, the overall graduation rate for public high school students jumped nearly 3 percentage points. Each major racial and ethnic group posted gains of at least 2 percentage points, with African-American students showing the steepest improvement. African-Americans’ graduation-rate rise over the past decade, in fact, has contributed to a 2-percentage-point narrowing of the gap between black students and their white counterparts over that period. The report finds, however, that the graduation gaps between Latinos and whites and between Native Americans and whites have widened since 1999.”

The report noted the rate is “the highest level of graduation for the nation’s public high schools since the 1980s, [and] this result also marks a significant turnaround following two consecutive years of declines and stagnation.”

Colorado stats

The analysis by the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center found Colorado’s overall 2008 graduation rate was slightly above the national average at 73.3 percent.

Colorado’s gender gap basically mirrored the nation, with 77.1 percent of girls and 69.7 percent of boys graduating.

The state and the nation both show significant ethnic graduation gaps, but Colorado’s American Indian (49.3 percent) and Hispanic (52 percent) graduation rates were lower than national averages. The state’s black graduation rate (61.7 percent) was higher than the national rate.

Colorado’s graduation rate grew 5.7 percentage points from 1998 to 2008, compared to 6.1 points nationally. (The study used 2008 because that was the most recent year for which full comparable data was available. See this explanation of how rates were calculated.)

Unlike many states, Colorado does not have statewide common requirements for high school graduation, either prescribed courses or examinations. Local control of instruction is guaranteed by the state constitution.

The study also provided data about the nation’s 50th largest school districts, which include Jefferson County and the Denver Public Schools. Jeffco was 5th in the nation with a 77.8 percent rate, while DPS was 48th with a 43.5 percent rate.

Districts also were evaluated on what their graduation rates were expected to be, based on size and socioeconomic factors. Jeffco’s graduation rate was higher than its predicted rate, but Denver fell short. (See list of districts.)

Debate growing around value of college

Other studies 

A number of factors have focused research and commentator attention on college attendance and completion in recent months.

First, there has been growing attention to – or at least rhetoric about – the value of postsecondary education to a student’s life prospects. Colorado’s omnibus education improvement law, the 2008 Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids, explicitly sets a standard of “postsecondary and workforce readiness” for all high school graduates to meet.

Colorado politicians and education leaders routinely praise the value of college, and college completion is one of the three education policy priorities announced by the Hickenlooper administration earlier this spring.

But there has been concern that the postsecondary push places too much emphasis on college and not enough on other types of training after high school, questions echoed in the Diplomas County report.

Second, the economic downturn and the resulting tough job prospects for college grads have sparked fresh debate about the value – and the cost – of college.

The report notes that 70 percent of high school grads enroll in college within two years, but only about 40 percent of young Americans manage to earn a bachelor’s or an associate’s degree by age 27.

The report examines career-related pathways for students such as community college, “early college,” or high school training that leads to certification.

“While credible sub-baccalaureate options exist, high school students are often not aware of them—nor of the educational requirements for occupations they might want to pursue,” the report summary concludes.

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.