03/30/2012 07:13 am ET Updated May 30, 2012

Graduation Rates Are Increasing, But Not Fast Enough for Latino Students

By Erika Beltrán, Senior Education Policy Analyst, NCLR

Imagine a high school with ten empty desks in every 12th-grade classroom. Ten seats that, for whatever reason, were wasted, thrown away, discarded. It's an image that came to mind after reading the report released last week by the Alliance for Excellent Education, America's Promise Alliance, Civic Enterprises, and the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University. The findings show a somewhat improved, but still dismal graduation rate for Hispanic students.

Overall, the report has good news: there was a 3.5 percentage point increase in graduation rates nationwide between 2001 and 2009. But it also reminded us of how far we have yet to go in building a "graduation nation," especially for children of color. The data from this report show that only 65.9 percent of Hispanic students are graduating on time from high school, compared to 82 percent% of White students.

The graduation rate for Latino students means that, of the 25 fourth graders I taught in Houston almost a decade ago, only 16 of them graduated and nine of them dropped out. It's shocking to think about, considering the huge amount of potential they had as ten-year-olds in my classroom and the enthusiasm they had for learning. And it's especially shocking considering the hopes and dreams that their parents and I shared for their future. It makes little sense to me that more than a third of my students would not finish high school. How is this possible?

Building a graduation nation must be a priority for our country, for our schools, and for our communities. No Child Left Behind has certainly made graduation rates a priority and a focus for schools. Based on the trends we've seen thus far, the number of children graduating has increased, and the number of drop-out factories--schools with less than a 60 percent graduation rate--has decreased, but it's not good enough. The message to federal policymakers should be clear. We need to maintain a strong focus on graduation rates; ten seats in every classroom is a terrible thing to waste.

This was first posted to the NCLR Blog.