Good news: The graduation gap between students based on race is shrinking.

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.

Photo by Yuri Gripas/AFP/Getty Images.


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."

Photo by Yuri Gripas/AFP/Getty Images.

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.

GIF via The White House.

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.”

Photo by Yuri Gripas/AFP/Getty Images.

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."

Photo by Yuri Gripas/AFP/Getty Images.

Watch Obama's speech at Benjamin Banneker Academic High School below.

He starts speaking at about 28:15.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less
Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less