The news: In March, President Barack Obama announced the launch of Grad Nation, a 10-year campaign to combat the national dropout rate and better prepare students to succeed in college and the workforce.

Behind the news: A Chicago Reporter analysis of Illinois State Board of Education data found that the one-year dropout rate for the 2007-08 school year was 12 percent in Chicago Public Schools–”the highest it has been since 2003.

Black students accounted for 57.5 percent of all Chicago Public Schools dropouts that year, though they made up 51 percent of the student body. By contrast, white students, who made up 8 percent of the student body, accounted for 7 percent of all dropouts. Reflecting national trends, graduation rates for males were consistently lower than for females across racial categories.

According to Chicago Public Schools data, the five-year graduation rate in 2009 was 41 percent for black males, 49 percent for Hispanic males and 57 percent for white males. On the other hand, the chance of graduating within five years was 60 percent for black females, 64 percent for Hispanic females and 68 percent for white females. Andrew Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University, sees the graduation gender gap as a national crisis. “Right now, girls pay their dues,” he said. “They put in more work, while boys just transfer to another school.”

The issue has severe economic consequences, Sum added. “If you’re a male and drop out today, you’re worse off than ever in the last 40 years,” he said. “Lack of a diploma and solid work is the best predictor of ending up in jail.”

Natalie Southwick

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