Last year’s numbers have been crunched. In Texas, the high-school graduation rate has continued to rise, with 89 percent getting their diploma, as compared to 84.3 percent in 2010. Here in the Houston area, many of the suburban districts beat the state average: 93.2 percent of Conroe ISD seniors made it, as did 90.1 percent of Spring Branch ISD’s, and 97.8 percent of Pearland ISD’s.
HISD is a bit of a different story, with 79.3 percent of seniors graduating last year. On its face, that number doesn’t impress—it not only lags the state’s rate by nearly 10 points, but trails the largest districts in Dallas (86.7 percent) and Austin (89.7 percent).
But it’s important to remember that HISD has 215,000 students, by far the most in Texas (Dallas has 160,000, and Austin 84,000). The larger the district, the harder it is to identify and help at-risk students—and to track students who change schools, which can inflate dropout rates. Half of the state’s other districts, meanwhile, serve 1,000 or fewer students, a far more manageable number.
Beyond that, factors like poverty, homelessness, teen pregnancy and frequent home moves—all linked to drop-out rates—are simply part of reality in a big urban district like HISD. “It’s not unusual for a big district to be below the state average,” says Debbie Ratcliffe, director of media relations at the Texas Education Agency, which compiled the data. “They tend to be extremely diverse, with a high percentage of low-income children and a high mobility rate among the student population.”
Still, Ratcliffe says, it’s important to note that HISD’s graduation rate has steadily increased from 2010, when it was 74.3 percent. “That takes a lot of hard work,” she says. “It’s not an easy number to turn around.”
Bea Marquez, who leads HISD’s Dropout Prevention Department, says the improved graduation rate is the result of tireless work on the part of teachers, coaches, counselors and administrators at all grade levels, because many kids fall behind early and never catch up.
“There’s many reasons why they drop out,” Marquez says. “There’s economic reasons, where they are the primary earner. They speak English better than their parents. They are the acting adult, taking care of younger siblings. But in every case, they are disconnected. If a child is leaving a school, we weren’t able to connect with them.”