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CCSD Graduation Rates Have Increased, But Not For Black Students
6/11/2014 2:53:39 PM

African-American Graduate of Stall High School. Photo: Tolbert Smalls, Jr.
By Barney Blakeney

As hundreds of high school seniors crossed stages to receive high school diplomas in the past few weeks, Charleston County School District officials boasted that graduation rates have increased in recent years. While that may be true, the devil’s in the details and the details are not so progressive for African American students.

Since 2007 the rate of graduation for CCSD students overall have increased from 61 percent to about 80 percent. During the same time the overall rate of graduation for African American students in the district has increased from 60 percent to 72 percent.

But at some predominantly Black high schools the graduation rate remains dismally low.

According to the state’s 2013 annual school report card the graduation rate at R.B. Stall High remains at 60 percent. That’s also true at predominantly Black Baptist Hill High where the rate remains at 60 percent. And at predominantly Black North Charleston High the rate was a dismal 47 percent.

Contrastingly at predominantly white high schools the rates were markedly higher. At the Academic Magnet High the rate was 100 percent, at Charleston County School of the Arts the rate was 98 percent, at James Island Charter High the rate was 90 percent and at Wando High the rate was 85 percent.

Several district officials addressed the differences. Craig Ascue, East Cooper Constituent Dist. 1 representative to the county’s consolidated school board, said he thinks district administrators are trying to address the disparities. They must, he said, because drastically lower graduation rates at some schools bring down the overall numbers.

Constituent Dist. 20 representative to the consolidated board, Todd Garrett, said principals at lower performing schools can make a difference. He cited the increased graduation rate at Burke High where the rate in 2013 increased from 54 percent the previous year to 70 percent. He agrees that efforts such as the district’s literacy academies and other initiatives focused at the middle school and primary grade levels will have a positive impact.

West Ashley’s representative Michael Miller said district administrators must begin to look at how it truly can increase graduation rates for all students. The million dollar question, he said, is whether they’re doing what needs to be done to impact the rates for African American students.

Public schools advocate Jon Butzon isn’t sure that’s happening. He said we need to look beyond graduation rates. He cited that last year only some 22 percent of graduates were fully ready for college or careers. What good is a diploma if it means nothing, he asked.

“We can talk increases all day, but the gaps between students are huge and they’re not being closed,” he said. “What are we really doing to improve the education outcomes for all kids?”

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