The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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October 27, 2013

Graduation

The news last week on the education front in West Virginia was the kind we’re happy to report.

New state Department of Education numbers show high schools in the state have improved graduation rates at a steady pace over the past five years, from 70.8 percent in the 2008-2009 school year to 79.3 percent in 2012-13.

In southern West Virginia, Kenny Moles, Raleigh County assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, says the county’s graduation rate has improved from 77.1 percent in 2010 to 82.2 percent in 2013.

In Summers County, Superintendent Vicki Hinerman said that in 2011-12 the graduation rate was 76.4 percent, and after fifth-year seniors were accounted for, the number was 79.2 percent. For 2012-13, the rate was 75.7 percent, but with fifth-year seniors she said that number will rise.

Nicholas County Superintendent Beverly Kingery reports that graduation rates given years ago there were 70 percent, but they are now up to 83 percent at Richwood High School and 85 percent at Nicholas County High School.

Monroe County Superintendent Joetta Basile says graduation rates there are up 14 percent from 2012 and 2013. In 2011, for example, there were 27 dropouts at James Monroe High School, but in 2012 there were only two and this year the number is three.

“It’s working,” state Supreme Court Justice Robin Davis told The Associated Press, crediting circuit court judges who are aggressively holding parents and caregivers accountable for truancy. Truancy rates, Davis said, have dramatically fallen, and graduation rates have dramatically increased.

We’re not surprised that there is a correlation to being in class and graduating.

Like all complex issues, high school graduation rates have ripples that extend deep into our economy and our society.

Former Gov. Bob Wise is now president of the Alliance for Excellent Education in Washington. In a report issued last month, the alliance said the nation could save as much as $18.5 billion annually in crime costs by increasing high school graduation rates by 5 percentage points.

The study looked at male graduation rates, since males are imprisoned at a rate 14 times that of females. In 2009, 93 percent of U.S. prisoners were male.

In a breakdown for West Virginia, the study predicts that a 5 percent increase in the rate of males graduating from high school would mean $99.5 million in crime-related savings, and an increase of $5.7 million in earnings each year. The total annual benefit to the West Virginia economy would be $105.2 million.

Those are big numbers, but they are just numbers. There is also a human element that may be even more important: A high school degree dramatically cuts the odds of going to prison in the first place, and the shattered lives and families that often result from a prison sentence.

“The nation needs to focus dollars and efforts on reforming school climates to keep students engaged in ways that will lead them toward college and a career away from crime and prison,” Wise said. “The school-to-prison pipeline starts and ends with schools.”

The Alliance for Excellent Education, rightly, says we can do better, and is pushing for a national high school graduation rate of 90 percent.

West Virginia is on the right track to challenge that goal.

So we salute the students who stay in school, the parents who support them, the teachers who teach and counsel them, and the administrators and staff who work to provide the proper learning environment.

The more high school students we have who graduate, the better for West Virginia.

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