Great news – the high school graduation rate in the United States has risen again!
It is at an all-time high of 83.2 percent (U.S. Department of Education), and an analysis of performance for all groups measured (differentiated by race, income, disability and more) showed that all groups showed increases. Special thanks to those who work in schools, parents, students and other organizations that have worked hard to earn this result.
Increasing the graduation rate is a goal that the network of United Way set in 2008. The importance of this milestone can be seen in job earnings, with high school graduates earning roughly $10,000 more annually than those who drop out (U.S. Census). Additionally, high school graduates are less likely to be incarcerated, less likely to live in poverty, and more likely to have good health than those who do not complete their diploma (Northeastern University and U.S. Department of Education).
How can we continue this success? Part of the answer involves knowing the right milestones that lead up to graduation. For example, success in middle school is a strong predictor of graduation from high school (Education Week).
One key to success in middle school is good attendance. Interventions that help kids struggling with attendance and/or grades before high school can make a difference. We also know that proficiency in reading by third grade is a predictor of good grades in middle school (National Research Council). After third grade, kids are no longer learning to read, they are reading to learn. A student can quickly fall behind and become frustrated if he or she is struggling with reading in middle school.
Because third-grade reading is so important, how do we make sure kids are on track to meet that milestone? We can provide extra support and interventions during the early grades. We can also help kids to be truly ready for kindergarten (Crane Center for Early Childhood Research). This means that they have some knowledge of letters, numbers, colors, shapes, pre-literacy skills (e.g., how to hold a book), social skills (e.g., how to share) and more. High-quality preschool programs provide these skills and set kids up to be successful when they enter kindergarten.
Finally, kids are best prepared for preschool when their mothers received early prenatal care, and when their physical and emotional needs are met during their first few years of life (Johns Hopkins School of Education). Additionally, having many opportunities to experience positive stimulation from the people around them is critical.
Our littlest ones are soaking up all of the spoken words, visual images and responsive interactions around them, even if we cannot detect learning.
At United Way of Southwest Colorado, we step back and look at the big picture to see where support is needed most. When we invest in this pathway from Cradle to Career, we want to make sure all kids can have a chance to graduate and live their best life. It takes all of us to increase the graduation rate even more – join us in Living United to do this.
Lynn Urban is president and CEO of United Way of Southwest Colorado.