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A "Tom Turkey" float makes its way down 6th avenue during the 89th Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in the Manhattan borough of New York
Brown Center Chalkboard

An education thanksgiving

This time of year we ought to reflect on the things that are so right in American education. News stories—and, yes, blog posts—tend to focus on the negative: what’s gone wrong and what needs to be fixed. While working for the better is the American way, it’s also important to recognize that which is going well. It is the month for Thanksgiving.

So today’s post offers solely data on good news: not perfect news, not the-job-is-all-done news—but good news.

Graduation rates are up

Over the last fifteen years, high school graduation rates have risen. The vast majority of adults have a high school diploma. White, Black, and Hispanic graduation rates have all moved up (and notably, the increases have been larger among minorities, which has slightly narrowed gaps).

College completion is up

Over the last fifteen years, a noticeably increased portion of the adult population has earned a college degree. This is true among adults of all races, though it’s not clear gaps have made any progress during this time.

Associate degrees, too

There’s a tendency to focus on degree completion at the high school and college level. Community colleges and associate degrees matter too, and they are also up. Here are the numbers by sex. If you’re wondering, the numbers have also risen for all racial and ethnic groups.

Schools are safer

Violence against students is way, way down from the 1990s and seems to be continuing to slowly decline. Keeping our kids safe at school is surely something to be thankful for.

School is also a less scary place than it once was—reductions of more than 50 percent for both males and females.

Sobering news

Alcohol use among high school students is declining. I think this is a good thing, although I do wonder what the French would think of the notion that most high school students had not had a glass of wine in the last month.

Public perception has improved

Perhaps the most telling good news comes from the upward trend in the EdNext/PEPG poll in which the public is asked to grade schools. For their own local schools, presumably the ones the public knows best, a majority now assign a grade of A or B. We can’t pin down what exactly is making the public more satisfied, but things appear to be moving in the right direction.

In this month for Thanksgiving we do have much to be thankful for in our kids’ schools. But you will see that I have left out something, something I don’t have a picture for, something which is the most important thing to be thankful for.

Our schools are filled with a great many very good teachers and very many great teachers (and principals and staff and so many parent volunteers too). Thanks gals and guys.

Author

D

Dick Startz

Professor of Economics - University of California, Santa Barbara

The Brown Center Chalkboard launched in January 2013 as a weekly series of new analyses of policy, research, and practice relevant to U.S. education.

In July 2015, the Chalkboard was re-launched as a Brookings blog in order to offer more frequent, timely, and diverse content. Contributors to both the original paper series and current blog are committed to bringing evidence to bear on the debates around education policy in America.

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