School Superintendent William Hite speaks during a news conference last week on decreasing city dropout rates.


Graduation rates of high school students in Philadelphia are on the rise.

A report titled A Promise Worth Keeping: Advancing the High School Graduation Rate in Philadelphia shows that graduation rates are increasing and dropout rates are decreasing overall among local high school students. The report was published as a follow-up to the 2006 study Unfilled Promise, The Dimensions and Characteristics of Philadelphia’s DropOut Crisis, 2000-2005 by Project U-Turn.

Project U-Turn is the citywide dropout-prevention collaborative comprised of students and representatives from the School District of Philadelphia, city agencies, foundations and youth-serving organizations.

“Project U-Turn and its partners have accomplished much over the last eight years since the release of Unfilled Promise in 2006,” said Chekemma Fulmore-Townsend, co-chair of Project U-Turn and president of the Philadelphia Youth Network, which hosts the dropout prevention collaborative.

“Nevertheless, Philadelphia’s on-time graduation rate remains 19 percentage points below the state average and 16 percentage points below the national average. This disparity shows a clear need for continued efforts to enhance, but also expand services and supports offered to both in-and-out-of-school youth.”

Based on research conducted by PolicyLab at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and John Hopkins University, the report tracks what has happened regarding high school dropouts in Philadelphia since the time of the original study. In 2006, about half of the ninth graders entering the city’s public high schools went on to graduate in four years. According to the report, that share has risen to 64 percent, an increase of 12 percentage points. Dropout rates have fallen from 29 percent among the 2003-04 entering class to 25 percent for the 2008-09 entering class.

“These gains have been achieved despite insufficient public education funding during a time of profound change at the school district,” said Mayor Michael Nutter, who has made educational attainment improvements a priority of his administration.

“Today our goal and continued advocacy must be to provide high quality education to every Philadelphian student.”

Nutter touted his proposed 9.34 percent property tax increase which is expected to pump $105 million in new funding to the struggling school district.

According to the report, students of all races are earning diplomas at higher rates than before, with Hispanic and Asian students demonstrating the greatest gains. Graduation rates among students in the city’s Department of Human Services and juvenile justice systems are also on the rise.

The report notes that of the students from the 2008-09 ninth grade class who dropped out, 54 percent re-engaged in the school system, up from 47 percent of the dropouts from the 2002-03 cohort who did so. The graduation rates of those dropouts who re-engaged remained steady, at roughly 35 percent, suggesting that re-engagement programs still need to improve pathways to diplomas.

“More must be done to help those young people reengage and earn a high school diploma because it becomes a path to the future and to their future opportunities,” School District Superintendent William Hite said.

David Rubin, co-director of PolicyLab, said that more resources are needed for further progress.

“It was remarkable that we saw an increase in graduation rates despite leadership turnover and fiscal challenges in the school district, particularly among our youth in child warfare and the juvenile justice system,” Rubin said. “But with many of the support staff who were critical in this success now gone, these data should unequivocally reinforce the need for a strong and renewed investment to return those critical resources to the district and build upon the success we observed.”

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