Daniel Doherty
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Hold that thought for one second. Of course higher high school graduation rates are something every American can and should celebrate. What’s not to like? However, if we look a bit deeper and try to understand why this phenomenon is actually happening -- this sort of “progress” is slightly more complicated (H/T Allahpundit):

The percentage of students at public high schools who graduate on time has reached its highest level in nearly 40 years, according to the most recent federal government estimates released Tuesday.

Based on data collected from the states for the Class of 2010, the National Center for Education Statistics estimated that 78 percent of students across the country earned a diploma within four years of starting high school. The graduation rate was last at that level in 1974, officials said. …

Mark Hugo Lopez, associate director of the Pew center, said the findings confirm trends his organization has been tracking. “We’ve seen a surge in the Hispanic high school completion rate,” he said.

He pointed to the nation’s soft economy as one reason more students are staying in school but added that there is probably a shift in demographics at play, too…

Jack Buckley, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, agreed with Lopez that the weak economy is one reason for the improvement in graduation rates across the board.

“When the economy turns down or there are poor economic conditions, there’s a lack of available jobs for high school dropouts, fewer jobs that they can actually be qualified for,” Buckley told reporters last week. “Historically, there has been a correlation between the dropout rate going down when the economy is weaker.”

Who knew that a painfully slow economic recovery and high unemployment would increase public high school graduation rates? How wonderful!

Well, not so fast. If anything, students are staying in school longer and graduating not because the quality of a public education is markedly improving -- after all, 79 percent of eighth graders in Chicago can’t read proficiently -- but because there’s a dearth of jobs and opportunity in the labor market. I fear this says much more about the president’s failed economic policies than it does about the quality of our U.S. public education system

Still, the lower the public high school dropout rate the better, right? Sure. But the question remains: What are these kids supposed to do when they finally do graduate? Regrettably, the president didn’t address this concern at all during his second inaugural address, and it remains to be seen if and when he will.

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Daniel Doherty

Daniel Doherty is Townhall's Deputy News Editor. Follow him on Twitter @danpdoherty.

Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography