Poverty in Conn. seen in lower high school graduation rates

Monae Robinson at her high school graduation, receiving a hug from a loved-one.

Monae Robinson at her high school graduation, receiving a hug from a loved-one.

Test scores released earlier this week by the Connecticut Department of Education highlighted, once again, a persistent gap between the performance of the state’s wealthiest students and the poorest ones. Now, the state has released information on a measurement that shows that achievement gap in even more stark terms – the percentage of students who graduate from high school in four years.

Listen to Craig LeMoult’s story about four-year graduation rates here:

The impact of income on graduation rates is evident in this map detailing the newly data, created for WSHU by the Connecticut State Data Center at the University of Connecticut. Click on the dots to see the graduation rate of individual high schools, and on the map to see the median family income of different census tracts they’re in. To see a full-screen version of the map, click here.

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As you can see, the high schools with the lowest four-year graduation rates are clustered in the towns with the lowest median family income.

(Click here for the raw data by district, and here to see it by school).

In Connecticut during the 2012 academic year, the four year graduation rate for kids whose parents made too much money to qualify for help paying for lunch was 93 percent. For kids who got a reduced priced lunch, that graduation rate slipped to about 83 percent. And of the kids who were poor enough to be eligible for a free lunch, just around 66 percent of them graduated from high school in four years.

Robert Balfanz, the director of the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University, says if a student doesn’t graduate in four years, they’re likely to not graduate at all. He says although Connecticut is one of the wealthiest states, it under-performs its affluence.

“Its graduation rate is higher than the national average, but it’s not among the top,” says Balfanz. And I think that’s largely because the state overall is wealthy, but the wealth has significant unevenness in its distribution.”

Connecticut’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, says the state is making an investment in the kinds of services he thinks will reduce the gap. “Just this year alone, in the new biennial budget the increase for Alliance Districts, the 30 lowest performing, highest poverty districts was increased by about 50 million dollars,” says Prior. “Another increase is budgeted for next year. On top of that, there are investments in family resource centers, school based health clinics, the Commissioner’s Network of individual low performing high poverty schools, and it goes from there.”

Pryor says he’s optimistic, because even though the new data show poverty continues to be correlated with lower graduation rates, there are also signs of improvement. For kids getting free lunches, the graduation rate is nearly six percent higher than last year. And for those getting reduced price lunch, it’s seven percent higher.

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