Birmingham– According to the U.S. Department of Education, Alabama’s high school graduation rate jumped eight percent between the years 2011 and 2013. That may not sound like a lot, but it was the second-largest increase in the country, which also saw its rate increase while racial gaps decreased. WBHM’s education reporter Dan Carsen caught up with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to talk about what the numbers mean for the state and for the nation. An extended web-only version of the interview is above. Below are the state superintendent’s thoughts.
Reached by phone early this morning, Alabama schools superintendent Tommy Bice attributed Alabama’s spike in high-school graduation rates to three factors:
Setting a target. One goal of the state’s “Plan 2020” is a 90 percent graduation rate by that year. In order to help bring that about, Bice says, the Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE) is giving every system in the state disaggregated student data and working with the systems on their plans to bring rates up.
The state’s new data system. Up and running since 2012, it gives more reliable “clean” student data in a way that’s comparable across systems and across the nation.
Flexibility. The legislature, the state board of education, and ALSDE have in recent years granted waivers and permissions to try new approaches to help prevent at-risk students from dropping out. Bice cited as one example the “Hope and Twilight” program in Walker County, where students are allowed to attend school from 4 to 8 p.m., which helps students working jobs during the school day stay on track to graduate.
“We let them know, ‘you can do this — there’s nothing that says school has to be between 8 and 3,'” says Bice.