Utah’s Devastating Graduation Rates

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A recent article published in the Salt Lake Tribune revealed Utah’s astonishingly low high school graduation rates, which ranks us in the bottom half compared with the rest of the nation. With 76 percent of students graduating, Utah is rated below 31 other states. Looking at minority graduation rates, we perform even worse.

The article blames this poor score on a recent influx of diversity into the state. Analis Carattini-Ruiz, a Latina representative on the state school board’s Coalition of Minorities Advisory Committee, is quoted in the article as calling for changes in education such that, “kids can identify with what we’re talking about…or have guest speakers that look like them,” however, this is a dangerous path to accidental racism. While all students should be exposed to a variety of cultures, sending only Latino speakers and teachers only into predominantly Latino schools sounds remarkably like pre-civil-rights era segregation. Efforts should be made such that all students have an equal opportunity to reach their potential, not a “separate but equal” opportunity.

Ruiz cites the successes of her program, Latinos in Action, which sends older students into elementary schools to do community service to back up her suggestion. Yet, couldn’t the rise in graduation rates be attributed to the fact that the young students are being worked with at all, regardless of the color of the person volunteering? Furthermore, the program has only been in action for three years, which is not long enough to determine if the elementary school students benefiting from the program will indeed graduate high school.

Other possible causes for the sudden drop in graduation rates include changes to the formula used to determine the rates. The formula is now standard throughout the nation and does not allow students with cognitive disabilities who took a state assessment but didn’t earn regular diplomas, students who earned GEDs, or special education students who took more than four years to graduate to be counted as graduates. It also begins the calculation at ninth grade, rather than tenth, which was used in the past. These changes and others contribute to the drop from 90 percent graduation to 76 percent.

Possibly the largest contributing factor to substandard rate of graduation is the lack of money spent on education throughout the state. Utah spends the least on education per pupil in the country. It is a feat of excellent teaching that we are not also ranked last in percent of graduates.

Clearly, a change must be made. It is not enough to warn students of the consequences of dropping out of high school. It is known that high school graduates are more successful than dropouts; in fact, graduates make $9,245 more a year, on average, according to the National Dropout Prevention Center. Investments must be made in the future of Utah in order for residents to compete not only with the rest of the nation, but with the world.

Schencker, Lisa. “Utah ranks in bottom half of country for high school grad rate.” Salt Lake Tribune 26 Nov. 2012. 7 Dec. 2012.<http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/55349588-78/utah-graduation-education-rate.html.csp?page=1>

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