Mapping the Graduating Class of 2013: ‘Significant’ Gaps Still Remain

White and Asian students -- and students from wealthier families -- still wind up with more of the diplomas

It’s graduation season in New Jersey’s nearly 400 public and charter high schools and, if last year’s trend holds true this June, about 93,000 seniors will have received diplomas by the end of the month — according to the state Department of Education.

In 2013, New Jersey’s graduation rate was 87.5 percent. The state likely won’t release the exact numbers of graduates until the fall, but odds are that greater percentages of Asian and white students finished high school than Hispanic or blacks. And students from wealthier communities, regardless of race or ethnicity, were more likely to get a diploma than those from low-income households.

Earlier this year, America’s Promise Alliance, founded by former Gen. Colin Powell to improve the lives of young people, released a report showing that low-income students graduate at much lower rates than the typical student. It reported that in 2011-2012 in New Jersey, 75 percent of low-income students graduated, while 90 percent of students at mid- and upper-income levels finished high school.

“Far too many young people still do not earn a high school diploma, and the number of non-graduates remains alarmingly high among young people of color and those from low-income communities,” wrote Powell and his wife Alma in a letter opening the 2014 report Building a Grad Nation released by America’s Promise Alliance in conjunction with several other groups. “In other words, a young person’s chances for success still depend too much on his or her zip code and skin color and too little on his or her abilities and effort.”

Some of the lowest graduation rates in the state last year were at high schools in some of the state’s most disadvantaged districts. The traditional high schools with the lowest rates were: Camden High, 47 percent; Barringer High in Newark, 49 percent; and Woodrow Wilson High in Camden, 50 percent.

Conversely, the traditional high schools with the highest rates were in some of the state’s wealthiest areas, including Kinnelon in Morris County, Glen Rock in Bergen, and Millburn in Essex.

The National Center for Education Statistics’ most recent report on high school completion and dropout data found gaps both in income and in race and ethnicity. It showed that low-income students are five times more likely to drop out of high school than those from higher income families and that blacks and Hispanics dropped out of school at higher rates than whites.

New Jersey education officials say the gap among races is closing, but still significant. Last year, nearly 96 percent of Asian students and 93 percent of whites graduated. That compares with almost 79 percent of Hispanics and about 76 percent of blacks.

America’s Promise Alliance suggests that the gaps can be breached if officials make a concerted effort in several areas, particularly focusing on reducing chronic absenteeism and providing the best possible experience during the pivotal middle grades.