Maryland's public schools are graduating a higher percentage of students than they have in the past 15 years but they have seen a troubling increase in the number of students dropping out.
School officials attributed the higher dropout rate to the poor economy. More than one-third of students now qualify for subsidized or free meals in school, and principals say they see more students with jobs after school and families under increased financial stress.
"Economic pressures have historically had an adverse affect on continued enrollment in high school," said Bill Reinhard, a spokesman for the Maryland State Department of Education. "Researchers have found that dropouts say they are leaving to get a job or care for a parent or relative, or they are bored by their classes, but many also come from families struggling with poverty."
The Maryland State Department of Education reported Friday that 87 percent of students in the Class of 2011 graduated, up 2 percent since 2007. State school officials say they only have comparable graduation data for the past 15 years.
Across the state, 16 of 24 school districts saw graduation rates rise and 17 districts saw greater numbers of students drop out. The two trends can occur simultaneously because some students, such as those in special education, complete high school but receive a certificate and not a diploma, and because some students stay for five or six years.