by Anya Kamenetz
In his State of the Union address in January, President Obama had some sure-fire applause lines: “More of our kids are graduating than ever before” and “Our high school graduation rate has hit an all-time high.”
Which raised some interesting questions: “Is that really true?” and “Why?” and “How do we know?” and “So what?”
A seed was planted that grew into our project this week examining that number. Our reporting shows many of the individual stories behind a single statistic: 81 percent, the current U.S. graduation rate.
But in the course of pulling this project together, our team fell into a rabbit hole over something that doesn’t often get attention: the origin of the statistic itself. It turns out to be a fascinating story, and not just for data wonks. It’s a story of collaboration across the political aisle, heroic efforts and millions of dollars spent by state governments, and dogged researchers uncovering new insights that arguably changed the lives of tens of thousands of young people.
Many individuals worked hard, and worked together, to make the nation do a better job counting high school graduates. The effort had complex — sometimes contradictory — results.
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