The graduation numbers that came out last week were, on the one hand, stunning.
In one year, the four-year "on-time" graduation rate in the Cape Girardeau School District increased from 67.5 percent to 80 percent.
A 13 percent increase in just about anything is impressive. But particularly so on an issue that is such a complicated societal enigma. To those of us who have done well in school, gone to college and live what we consider to be normal lives, it's astonishing to think that one in three children were not getting high school diplomas. Now, at least for one year, that number appears to be one in five.
Eighty percent puts the Cape Girardeau School District on par with the rest of Missouri.
The reasons for the low graduation rates tend to focus on fractured family units and home instability that tends to be more prevalent in low-income households. But when the Southeast Missourian took a look at numbers of other Southeast Missouri school districts that shared similar or worse socioeconomic demographics than the Cape Girardeau School District, it showed our local district was lagging behind those districts, too. Numbers have not been publicly released for all school districts, but if those schools' numbers remain the same, then Cape Girardeau will go from the bottom to the middle of the pack with those schools within our region.
So, on the one hand, the increase is certainly a cause for celebration. School officials cite other figures that show that more and more students are keeping pace at lower grades, so there is also reason to anticipate that the graduation rate will continue to climb. That's the most exciting news of all. Social programs being instituted by the United Way, Big Brothers Big Sisters and the ongoing work of school teachers, counselors and administrators appear to be working. We hope that is the case.
But no one, including superintendent Jim Welker, is satisfied with 80 percent. That 20 percent of our public school students aren't graduating is not acceptable. And Cape Girardeau isn't satisfied with being "on par" with the rest of the state.
So we offer congratulations to everyone who is working on this problem, whether as a mentor, a teacher, an administrator or people who are donating money to programs that promote the importance of education. Your efforts are making a difference.
But there is still more work to do. If you're not on the front lines of battling our graduation gap, please consider what you can do to help.