The NCES report offers a more accurate look at high school graduation rates, which previously varied widely because individual states used different reporting methods. Beginning this year, all states will be required to adopt a more standard method.
Although graduation rates improved for every race and ethnicity, there were also achievement gaps among racial groups. The biggest gain was seen among Hispanic students, with 71.4 percent graduating on time, up 10 points from five years ago. Asian students had the highest graduation rate, with 93 percent finishing on time; white students, 83 percent; American Indian and Alaska natives, 69 percent; and African Americans, 66 percent.
Philadelphia's on-time graduation rate climbed to 64 percent last year, up 3 percent from the previous year. The dropout rate, the School District says, has decreased over the years to 25 percent.
Some experts believe the sluggish economy is largely responsible for the graduation-rate increase. Young people are wisely realizing their chances of landing a job that pays decent wages are slim to none without at least a high school diploma. "If you drop out of high school, how many good jobs are there out there for you? None," said U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan.
Indeed, a study last year by America's Promise Alliance, a foundation created by former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, found that high school graduates generally earn $130,000 more during their lifetimes than their peers who drop out of school.
The dropout rate nationally was about 3 percent, down slightly from the previous year. During the 2009-10 school year, 514,000 U.S. students left high school without graduating. Native American and Alaska natives had the highest dropout rate, 7 percent; followed by blacks, 6 percent. Boys of all races in every state are more likely to drop out than girls.
Now that schools are increasing the number of students who graduate on time, they need to ensure that the education they provide makes their diplomas worth more than the paper they are printed on.