Education Desk

In his State of the Union address in January, President Obama had some sure-fire applause lines: "More of our kids are graduating than ever before" and "Our high school graduation rate has hit an all-time high."

Which raised some interesting questions: "Is that really true?" and "Why?" and "How do we know?" and "So what?"

A seed was planted that grew into our project this week examining that number. Our reporting shows many of the individual stories behind a single statistic: 81 percent, the current U.S. graduation rate.

We have an update on a story we reported yesterday.

The NPR Ed Team's investigation into high school graduation rates found that many states and school districts are using questionable, quick fixes to improve their grad rates.

At the top of that list was Chicago.

We English-speakers take a perverse pride in the orneriness of our spelling, which is one reason why the spelling bee has been a popular entertainment since the 19th century. It's fun watching schoolchildren getting difficult words right. It can be even more entertaining to watch literate adults getting them wrong.


A couple of years ago, two people in Urbana were hit by darts fired from a blow-dart gun. They weren't seriously injured. That’s not what this story is about.  

The attacks were so random, and frankly so weird, that most people found them humorous. One of those happened to be a middle-school teacher, who posted a comment on Facebook.

A little more than 10 years ago, Texas banned soda machines and deep fryers in public school cafeterias.

Now the state's current agriculture commissioner, Sid Miller, wants to do away with that ban. He believes these kinds of restrictions should be in the hands of local school boards — not state regulators. But some students are among those who aren't happy about this idea.

What's in a number?

To many, 81 percent is a success story. It's the nation's all-time-high rate for high school graduation in 2013, the most recent year of federal data.

But the NPR Ed Team and reporters from member stations around the country have been digging into that number and found it's more complicated.

Not all the news here is good.

The national high school graduation rate is an impressive 81 percent. So impressive, President Obama highlighted it in his State of the Union address this year: "Our high school graduation rate has hit an all-time high."

Sound the trumpets. This is a really big deal. There's just one problem: The president didn't explain how we got here. For the past few months, the NPR Ed Team and reporters from member stations in more than a dozen states have been digging into these numbers to find out.

Giving at least a temporary victory to opponents of the plan to close Sweet Briar College, the Virginia Supreme Court has ordered a lower court to review its rejection of a request for a temporary injunction that would freeze the process of closing the school.

Officially, the U.S. has a high school graduation rate of 81 percent — a historic high.

But our months-long investigation, in partnership with reporters at 14 member stations, reveals that this number should be taken with a big grain of salt. We found states, cities and districts pursuing a range of strategies to improve the grad rate:

"Chow bus! Chow bus! Chow bus!" chants Gunner Fischer, 3, as a custom-painted school bus rounds the corner and rumbles toward his apartment complex in Murfreesboro, Tenn.

About 21 million students nationwide eat free and reduced-price meals throughout the school year, but getting those same kids fed during the summer is a challenge. Only a fraction of those make it to schools or community centers for summer meals.

The Truth About America's Graduation Rate

Jun 8, 2015

Read the full story ---> apps.npr.org/grad-rates/

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

The US high school graduation rate is at an all-time high. But why? NPR Ed partnered with 14 member stations around the country to bring you the stories behind that number. Check out the rest of the stories here in our slideshow. And find out what's happening in your state.

Barring a last-minute legal decision, as of July 1, the nation's for-profit colleges are going to be subject to a new Education Department rule known as gainful employment. That is: Do students end up earning enough to pay off their loans?

The nation's high school graduation rate is at an all-time high — 81 percent. It was such big news, President Obama touted it in his State of the Union address.

The U.S. high school graduation rate is at an all-time high. But why? NPR Ed partnered with 14 member stations around the country to bring you the stories behind that number. Check out the whole story here. And find out what's happening in your state.

In Oakland, Struggling For Years To Learn English

Jun 7, 2015

The US high school graduation rate is at an all-time high. But why? NPR Ed partnered with 14 member stations around the country to bring you the stories behind that number. Check out the whole story here. And find out what's happening in your state.

The US high school graduation rate is at an all-time high. But why? NPR Ed partnered with 14 member stations around the country to bring you the stories behind that number. Check out the whole story here. And find out what's happening in your state.

Dude and Roy Rabedeau are in their element running on the playground - their long blonde hair flying behind them.

The US high school graduation rate is at an all-time high. But why? NPR Ed partnered with 14 member stations around the country to bring you the stories behind that number. Check out the whole story here. And find out what's happening in your state.

The US high school graduation rate is at an all-time high. But why? NPR Ed partnered with 14 member stations around the country to bring you the stories behind that number. Check out the whole story here. And find out what's happening in your state.

Pennsylvania's high school graduation rate is 86 percent, but that may change in the next couple of years.

The US high school graduation rate is at an all-time high. But why? NPR Ed partnered with 14 member stations around the country to bring you the stories behind that number. Check out the whole story here. And find out what's happening in your state.

James Hanks didn't graduate from Birmingham's Woodlawn High School last year.

The US high school graduation rate is at an all-time high. But why? NPR Ed partnered with 14 member stations around the country to bring you the stories behind that number. Check out the whole story here. And find out what's happening in your state.

Korey Thomas is a polite and friendly 18-year-old who's just graduated from Henry County High, near Atlanta. Three years ago, though, he was failing his classes.

The US high school graduation rate is at an all-time high. But why? NPR Ed partnered with 14 member stations around the country to bring you the stories behind that number. Check out the whole story here. And find out what's happening in your state.

Thousands Of High School Students Getting Lost In Texas

Jun 7, 2015

The US high school graduation rate is at an all-time high. But why? NPR Ed partnered with 14 member stations around the country to bring you the stories behind that number. Check out the whole story here. And find out what's happening in your state. And find out what's happening in your state.

The US high school graduation rate is at an all-time high. But why? NPR Ed partnered with 14 member stations around the country to bring you the stories behind that number. Check out the rest of the stories here in our slideshow. And find out what's happening in your state.

In a windowless classroom, in a tough New Orleans neighborhood, a middle-aged man with piercing eyes is teaching math at top volume.

"I got a SINGLE DOLLAR if someone can tell me what's the RULE to this problem!" he intones.

Today's lesson is about the order of operations, a topic usually taught in elementary school. On average, Rodney Carey's students are working at a fifth-grade level. But they are much older, aged 16 to 24.

Mr. Rodney, as he is known, does whatever he can to motivate them, whether that's ordering in Chinese food or giving out cash prizes.

Six of the largest school districts in the country have banded together to revamp school lunches — and they're starting from the plate up.

School administrators in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami-Dade, Dallas and Orlando in 2012 formed the Urban School Food Alliance. And in May, they announced that they were ditching polystyrene lunch trays and replacing them with compostable lunch plates. It's a significant move since all together, the schools in the Alliance serve up 2.5 million meals a day.

Della Curry gave a free lunch to a hungry child that may be costly.

Curry is the kitchen manager — the lunch lady — at the Dakota Valley Elementary School in Aurora, Colo. She set off a national debate this week when she said that last Friday, "I had a first-grader in front of me, crying, because she doesn't have enough money for lunch," Curry told Denver's KCNC TV. "Yes, I gave her a lunch."

And shortly thereafter, Curry was fired.

Editor's Note: Our #RaceOnTech public call-out for diverse innovators officially ended June 15, but we encourage you to continue engaging around the #RaceOnTech hashtag to get to know each other's work. More than 150 people and organizations were suggested to join our "Day in The Life" social storytelling series set to begin July 13. Thanks for all the great suggestions!

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The motivation behind our series, 50 Great Teachers, is pretty simple: Celebrate great teaching and great teachers.

A few months ago, I celebrated Sarah Hagan, who doesn't so much teach algebra as shout it from the rooftops. Never have I seen more creative math lessons or more engaged students than in her classroom in Drumright, Okla.

The story is below. If you missed it, here's all you need to know about Hagan:

Algebra speed-dating, problem-solving with snowballs, math jewelry collection.

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