Thursday, April 13, 2006

High School Drop-Outs -- More About the Numbers

From Ash:

Po and I tried not to overwhelm you with numbers in our first post on drop-out. But, given a couple comments we received, I decided to reply to those here (particularly since I messed something up, for which I apologize profusely). (And which means get ready for a small sea of numbers.)

Dothis4ALiving wrote us:

"#7 is partially wrong. The census, by design, measures households. Therefore people in the military and in prison are not counted. This is not trickery and the census doesn't hide it; this is just how it works. So the 84 percent graduate census figure excludes people in jail who are disproportionately dropouts."

First, I've double-checked my numbers -- and oops, I'm very sorry -- we re-used the same number in #7 that we did in #4 -- which I hadn't meant to do -- so I messed up. "Do" is correct that the 84% high school education attainment is from the 2002 Current Population Survey, run by the Census. That's a survey that is primarily meant to measure U.S. economics and employment, so it's much smaller, and done much more frequently than, the Decentennial Census. Because of that, the CPS excludes the prison, military population and others living in "group quarters." And it's also true that the prison population has a much higher drop-out rate -- but, on the other hand, the military has a lower drop-out rate than the larger population.

More to the point, the Decentennial Census is meant to have a more complete, demographic portrait of the US, so it does include the populations that are excluded in the CPS. (I called Census to double-check that specifically for the charts we were looking at.)

If we're using the Decentennial Census numbers, as of 2000, then it is 80.4% of those 25 or older who have a high school education or higher. Yes, it's a bit lower -- but it's still not the much lower numbers that are out there. (Oh, by the way, Time reported that the CPS numbers were at 85-90% -- but I can't find CPS saying anything higher than 84%.)

(And to make myself feel a little better for my error -- that percent may have increased in the six years since then.)

"Dothis" also wrote a comment -- that the blog ate (Sorry!) -- addressing whether or not the Census numbers were misleading because they combine those who hold GEDs with diplomas, and also said that researchers were tracking 9th graders to get more accurate numbers.

Regarding the GED + diplomas, again, that is true that Census combines that data. But first, the Census is measuring those with a high school level education, and I think it's education that is the real issue, so I don't think it's as much of a problem as others do. But aside from that, the Decentennial Census does have more specific information: it specifically asks for those who have dropped out at what grade. About 16 percent of the U.S. population 25 and over do not have either a high school or GED. Which is way too high, but not the huge percentages that others are talking about.

Similarly, the Dept of Education reports that, from 1971 to 2000, about 12.4 million have received GEDs. Assuming that all of those people are still living, if you are looking for a "pure" number, the Census reports that, as of 2000, 146.5 million have at least a high school education (defined by diploma or GED). 146.5 - 12.4 = 134.1. So, as of 2000, approximately 134 million have a high school diploma (rather than education) or more. So, again, there's a reduction, but it doesn't seem to me to be such a dramatic one that warrants condemnation as an accounting "trick."

Regarding the 9th grade-tracking research, we have longitudinal studies that follow sets of 8th graders, done by the Dept of Education, but if you know of a specific study we should check out, I'd love to see it.


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