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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University February 21, 2005 | Vol. 34 No. 23
JHU Educators Create Web Site That Grades American High Schools

By Mary Maushard

Education researchers at Johns Hopkins have created the Graduation Gap Web site, a resource for educators, policy-makers, parents and others interested in improving America's high schools.

Recent research has shown that no more than seven out of 10 students who enter high school leave with a diploma, with only five out of 10 minority students reaching that same benchmark in many areas of the country. The price these students and society pay for their lack of education is tremendous.

Online at, the Graduation Gap promises to be an important tool for everyone interested in high school reform, now at the forefront of educational issues. President Bush recently announced his High School Initiative, and the nation's governors, calling 2005 "the Year of the High School," will host a high school summit this month.

The site will provide user-friendly data sets, tables, charts and analysis aimed at providing the best information available on the size, nature and location of the Graduation Gap. Robert Balfanz and Nettie Legters of the Center for Social Organization of Schools at Johns Hopkins define the Graduation Gap as the difference between existing high school graduation rates and skill levels and those needed to meet the economic and social challenges of the 21st century.

The first set of data tools on the Graduation Gap site will allow researchers, legislators, policy-makers, school reformers, school district officials, social reformers and the public to analyze the promoting power of the high schools in their state and the nation. Promoting power is a concept that compares the number of freshmen enrolled in a high school to the number of seniors four years later (or three years later in a 10-12 school). It is the best available school-level estimate of graduation rates. The promoting power data sets, tables and charts on the Graduation Gap Web site enable analysis of:

How successful high schools in each state and the nation are at graduating their students.

How many high schools in each state have high graduation rates and their characteristics (free-lunch level, minority concentration, size and location).

The number and characteristics of the high schools that produce many, if not most, of the dropouts in each state and nationally.

The extent to which minority students attend high schools with high and low graduation rates at the same frequency as nonminority students.

"Once these facts are understood, federal, state and local decision-makers will be in a stronger position to estimate the level and type of resources needed to provide every community with a high school that is equipped and able to educate and graduate all its students," Balfanz and Legters wrote in the Web site's policy brief.

Key findings from the Promoting Power data summarized in the policy brief include the following:

Only about 20 percent of high school students in the United States are likely to attend high schools with exemplary graduation rates (90 percent or higher).

In only six states do most high schools have graduation rates of 90 percent or higher.

Minority students are four times more likely to attend a high school with very low graduation rates and three times less likely to attend a high school with very high graduation rates than nonminority students.

Most high schools with very low graduation rates serve substantial populations of low-income students, yet less than one-third of these schools appear to receive Title 1 funds.

Additional resources and links will be added to the Graduation Gap site, including a review of what is known about transforming high schools with low graduation rates, additional data on the minority graduation gap and information on the middle grades connection.

CSOS is an educational research and development center, established at Johns Hopkins in 1966, to improve the educational system and to develop curricula and provide technical assistance to help K-12 schools use the center's research.


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