WASHINGTON – Montgomery and Prince George’s counties are national leaders when it comes to graduating African American and Latino students from high school, according to a new study of the 50 largest school systems in the country.
But the same report also ranked Baltimore City among the lowest in its white graduation rates.
The study, by the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research and the Black Alliance for Educational Options, found that graduation rates nationwide, for all students, was “abysmal.” Maryland’s 79 percent graduation rate for all students was 13th-highest among states.
The results “tell us that there is not only need for reform, but for redefining public education in general,” said Kaleem Caire, president of the Black Alliance for Educational Options.
The study compared students who entered eighth grade in 1993 to those who had graduated high school by 1998. It called the national graduation rate of 74 percent unacceptable.
The study also reported graduation rates for the nation’s 50 largest school districts — including Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.
Montgomery County was first in Hispanic graduation rates, second in overall graduation rates, fourth in black student graduations and fifth in graduating white students.
“We were pleased by the results of the study,” said Kate Harrison, spokeswoman for Montgomery County schools. “It demonstrates that we are heading in the right direction, but there is certainly room for progress.”
Principals of Montgomery County high schools said that graduating students is a priority in the district.
Gaithersburg High School Principal Stephen Bedford said part of the reason is the county’s emphasis on preparing students for college, which forces educators of “look at students one by one.” “When you have those programs occurring, what you are going to have is a higher graduation rate,” Bedford said.
Prince George’s County ranked third in graduating African American and Latino students and fourth in graduation rates for whites.
Caire noted that Prince George’s high school graduation rates seem to be inconsistent with the county’s low test scores. He said county school officials should “pat themselves on the back, ” but at the same time, question the strength of the diploma their students are receiving.
“You can graduate large numbers of students by having weak graduation requirements,” said Caire.
But Bill Ritter, principal of Northwestern High School in Hyattsville, challenged the notion that low test scores cheapen a county diploma.
“I don’t think that standardized scores are an accurate measure of student achievement,” Ritter said. “The fact that we are graduating kids is really an accomplishment on our part.”
Other Prince George’s County principals were not surprised by the high black and Hispanic graduation rates.
“This school system is almost entirely African American,” said Gordon Libby, principal of Frederick Douglass High School in Upper Marlboro, noting that 80 percent of students at his school are black.
Libby said that the school has high expectations and excellent students.
“I know we do well with our population of students,” Libby said.
Baltimore City officials could not be reached to comment on the city’s poor ranking. In addition to graduating low numbers of whites, the city schools finished 38th for overall graduation rates.
Caire suggested that the city’s low graduation rates may be due to the fact that parents there do not have the same levels of education as in other school districts. He said “the community needs to do a much better job at working directly with young people.”