Oct. 17, 2016, was a great day at Benjamin Banneker Academic High School in Washington, D.C.
First of all, its students and staff have a huge reason to pat themselves on the back: They boast a graduation rate of 100% — not an easy feat for any school.
Secondly, that figure impressed President Barack Obama so much, it was one reason he decided to swing by the school that Monday morning.
“It’s been a while since I did math,” he said during a speech addressing students and staff. “But 100% is good. You can’t do better than that.”
The president wasn’t there just to congratulate Banneker students, though. There were record graduation rates across the U.S. last year.
In a speech addressing the country, the president applauded the record-high number of high schoolers snatching up diplomas from coast-to-coast.
Last year, 83.2% of American high schoolers earned their diploma within four years — the highest rate on record. That number marks steady improvements across the board since the 2010-2011 school year, when a new standardized way of measurement was implemented nationwide.
What’s particularly great, though, is that the gains were broad and felt across all racial minority groups as well as low-income students and students with disabilities.
“We’ve made real progress,” Obama said at Banneker. “More African-American and Latino students are graduating than ever before.”
There hasn’t been a single vital factor in ensuring more students get through school; it’s been more about multiple influencers working together.
The president touted a variety of reasons for the progress, including investments in early education, prioritizing access to high-speed internet in libraries and classrooms, and empowering girls and students of color to dream big by zeroing in on the obstacles they face — especially when it comes to math and science fields.
Obama seemed pretty pleased with the commitment America’s high schoolers have made to finishing school.
This news doesn’t mean we can sit back, relax, and watch that record high inch closer to 100%. There are still problems within the education system that need addressing.
Although graduation rates have improved across the board, significant inequities — what Obama dubbed the “achievement gap” — remain between certain groups.
Last year, 75% of black students, 78% of Hispanic students, and 71.6% of American Indian/Alaska Native students graduated from high school in four years — promising figures reflecting progress but still significantly lower than the 87.6% of white students and 90.2% of Asian/Pacific Islander students who did the same.
The encouraging news, however, is that those achievement gaps are narrowing.
By no means do graduation rates say it all when it comes to the state of public education, though. The zip code you live in is far too indicative of the quality of education your child can expect to receive. Increasing reliance on standardized testing for funding has gutted the art programs and creative curriculums that can be just as important for learning as algebra or biology. And public school teachers are still paid far too little, oftentimes having to dish out their own funds to provide basic learning tools for their classrooms.
Still, that 83.2% figure reflects an increasing number of teenagers who understand getting an education is the best way to prepare for adulthood.
Numbers aside, these improvements matter because they mean better, brighter futures for our youth.
Obama pointed out that graduating isn’t just about the pride you get rocking a cap and gown in front of loved ones (although that’s a nice reward); it’s about opening doors to make sure you’re prepared to enter a competitive 21st-century workforce.
“That’s what we want all of America to believe — in every kid,” Obama said. “There’s magic in each and every one of you. And we just have to help you unleash it and nurture it and it realize it.”
Watch Obama’s speech at Benjamin Banneker Academic High School below.
He starts speaking at about 28:15.