Giving Schools an Honest Grade: Data Shows Vast Improvements Over Time

By Richard M. Long

Public schools have been improving for more than 50 years--a new infographic shows the vital stats

In the past 50 years, public schools have seen graduation rates have gone up while standards have been improved, the demand for higher-level skills has skyrocketed and the challenges have only gotten more profound. The National Superintendents Roundtable and the Horace Mann League released this infographic, "Giving Schools an Honest Grade," with concise evidence that shows the data points where public schools in the United States have been improving.

One of the most remarkable points is the high school graduation rate: In 1950, 38% of the students graduated from high school; in 2016, 89% graduated.  That happened for a lot of reasons.  First, more people decided that graduating from high school is important; but another reason is that there were the classrooms, teachers, principals, counselors, and others who worked to make this happen.  It also took communities to support their students and their educators with caregivers who focused on helping their kids to strive. 

This occurred as there was also an emphasis for our schools to reach more students, many of whom had been left out, and help them to achieve as well.  And, again the Roundtable has sifted through the NAEP data and found significant progress being made by all ethnic groups since the 1970s.

Yet, our society still has work to do. The childhood poverty rate in the United States is daunting.  According to the data presented by the Roundtable, we have about 25% of our children living in poverty--but our public spending on them and their families, at less than 1% of GDP, is one of the lowest in the developed world. We also know that progress doesn’t mean that we are finished.  We still have a lot to do to reach every student with the not simply the opportunities to be exposed to what is needed as we move to the middle of the 21st century; but to the reality of maximizing each student’s potential. 

The infographic concludes that, "Getting to the next level will require policymakers to address out-of-school factors influencing achievement, including high levels of student poverty and meager support for families."

So as we move forward, it is important to celebrate our success – which tells the public that we are worthy of their trust and support; but also that we are aware that our goal to have each student functioning as full and contributing members of our society.

Views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the endorsement of the Learning First Alliance or any of its member organizations.





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portion of Natl Superintendents Roundtable infographic