Call it faint praise - pride in the fact that a state's high school dropout rate is "only" 27.2 percent before graduation. The Charleston, W.Va., Gazette notes that figure doesn't sound so bad when compared to the national dropout rate, which runs at about a third of high school students, according to a study by Education Week magazine.
West Virginia schools merit more commendation, the Gazette adds, because only 34.5 percent of its black students didn't make it to graduation. The national dropout rate for black youngsters is almost 50 percent. West Virginia also contends it has higher graduation standards. Reporter Anna Mallory notes that the Mountain State requires 24 credits to graduate; the U.S. average is 20.5 credits. That adds a bit more luster to the dropout findings.
But forget West Virginia for a second. It has at least some mild justification for pride. Now get back to those national averages, numbers that simply cry out for alteration.
A third of America's high school students are dropping out before graduation? Half of our black students are quitting early? Even if Education Week magazine is a few percentage points off in either category, the findings are appalling in a country that makes so much to-do about its public education system.
Education Week's recently published graduation profile for 2002-03 showed Kansas beating the national averages, but the state's dropout rate still is higher than many people would like. Overall, 25 percent of Kansas students failed to graduate; among black students, the dropout rate was 45 percent, according to the report.
Somebody or something is falling down and falling short somewhere in this terrible picture. How can our nation hope to compete against the likes of China, Japan and India when their graduation rates are so much better than ours and their youngsters are pursuing even more education?