Monday, April 10, 2006

Drop-Out Rates - Are We Wrong? Maybe So.

From Po:

I highly recommend reading the Time magazine cover story this week on high school drop-outs. Oprah will be devoting two episodes later this week to the issue as well.

If you happened to read my education post of ten days ago, we mentioned that 84% of students graduate from high school today - versus 16% eighty years ago. What I didn't tell you then was that this number had plateaued for twenty-five years.

Now Time's story reports that this 84% Census number is inflated. Schools around the country count the "intent to take the GED" as a high school equivalent (whether they pass it or not), and they exclude students who get pregnant or join the military to boost their numbers. The real graduation rate is somewhere between 64% and 71%, apparently. This huge problem has been hidden by dastardly accounting tricks. This dwarfs Enron.

My hat is off to the researchers who audited the numbers to reveal this problem, and I also admire Time and Oprah and the Gates Foundation for bringing attention to it.

The Time article focuses on one town in Indiana that bragged for years of a 98% graduation rate, but is now addressing the problem. The most fascinating part of the Time article is about why these kids dropped out. It wasn't because of bad grades. 88% of the drop-outs had passing grades. It was plain old boredom. A failure to be engaged by school, and a failure to see the purpose in sticking around despite the boredom.

We're going to look into it in more detail and return to this issue later in the week ...


Anonymous DoThis4ALiving said...

A couple of clarification points, the census numbers are based on surveys that people fill out, so they are not affected by schools' labeling those who say they will take the GED as non-dropouts. That labeling however, does affect the district and state graduation rate, which are frequently wildly inaccurate.

What makes the census figures differ from studies is that the census lumps GED and high school graduates together. It is the census that excludes the military and jail.

So what researchers are doing is looking at new ninth grade students (ie those not held back from the previous year) and compare that the number who actually graduate four years later.

7:52 AM  
Blogger Ashley Merryman said...

I'm aware that some schools and districts manipulate their graduation data, but we were talking about the federal data.

Actually, as I explained in my other post, the Census doesn't exclude the military and jail from the Decentennial Census -- just its interim surveys. And it seems to me to be possible to get a close number of those who with GEDs who are included in the Census number by finding out how many GEDs have been granted -- which the Department of Education keeps track of. So I may be missing something, but I don't think that number is as impenetrable as it sounds.

Also, as I mentioned earlier, I have some longitudinal studies of students beginning in 8th grade, but I haven't seen the ones you are mentioning. If you have an specific ones you'd recommend me reading, I'd be happy to take a look.

7:34 AM  

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