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NCES REPORT FINDS STAGNATING GRADUATION RATES: NCES Acknowledges Data Limitations, Cites Efforts Underway to Improve Calculations

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"On average, dropouts are more likely to be unemployed than high school completers and to earn less money when they secure work. High school dropouts are also more likely to receive public assistance than high school completers who do not go to college . . . Dropouts also make up disproportionately high percentages of the nation's prison and death row inmates."

A new report from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) found that while high school completion rates improved in the 1970s and 1980s, these rates have since stagnated. While offering four types of graduation rates to “provide a broad picture of high school dropouts,” the report acknowledged its own shortcomings when it comes to studying high school dropout rates at the national level-in fact, it was unable to report a national dropout rate, but noted that efforts were already underway to improve data collection and reporting methods.

Most education researchers tend to dismiss the completion rates reported by NCES because of their data problems. The report, Dropout Rates in the United States: 2001, uses the Current Population Survey (CPS), taken from the U.S. Census Bureau, and the Common Core of Data (CCD), which is provided by state education agencies, to make its calculations. It notes that the CPS data does not provide information on military personnel or individuals “residing in group quarters, such as prison inmates,” nor is it a large enough sample size to reliably estimate state-level dropout rates. In addition, data from the CCD do not include information on students in private school and are not well suited for developing a national dropout rate because of missing information from some states.

While its graduation rates are questionable at best, the report is on point in its description of the importance of a high school diploma in today’s labor market. “Because high school completion has become a requirement for accessing additional education, or entering the labor force, the economic consequences of leaving high school without a credential are severe,” it reads. “On average, dropouts are more likely to be unemployed than high school completers and to earn less money when they secure work. High school dropouts are also more likely to receive public assistance than high school completers who do not go to college . . . Dropouts also make up disproportionately high percentages of the nation’s prison and death row inmates.”

Despite the unreliability on graduation rates, the NCES report agrees in many areas with more reliable reports. For example, it found that students living in low-income families were more likely to drop out than their peers from middle- and upper-income families. It also found a significant gap in the completion and dropout rates of white students and African-American and Hispanic students. It noted that while the gap began to narrow in the 1970s and 1980s, no further narrowing has been detected since 1990.

The report notes that “recent legislation enacted as part of the No Child Left Behind Act has increased interest in being able to study yearly change in high school graduation rates in general, and in on-time public high school graduation rates specifically.” NCES notes that the report does not include statistics on either concept because of “data limitations and on-going research into different measurement approaches,” but notes that it is working with “experts in the field of high school outcomes research” to develop graduation rate statistics that can more accurately represent an annual national graduation rate.

In the meantime, while NCES is working to improve its reliability on graduation rates, other researchers, such as Jay Greene and Greg Forster of the Manhattan Institute and Duncan Chaplin and Chris Swanson of the Urban Institute, have stepped up to provide a more trustworthy estimate of graduation rates at the state and national level. Their work, along with other research on calculating graduation rates, will be featured at an Alliance event in December (see box below).

Dropout Rates in the United States:2001 is available at http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2005/2005046.pdf.

Join the Alliance for Excellent Education at a Symposium on Graduation Rates

On Thursday, December 9, the Alliance for Excellent Education will host a symposium that will examine the current crisis surrounding inconsistent and inaccurate graduation rates. A panel of leading experts will discuss how the federal government can enforce accurate and effective ways to measure high school graduation rates.

Panelists include Robert Balfanz and Nettie Letgers of Johns Hopkins UniversityDuncan Chaplin and Chris Swanson of the Urban InstituteGreg Forster of the Manhattan Institute, and Daniel Losen of the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University.

The event will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. in the First Amendment Lounge at the National Press Club, located at 529 14th Street, NW, in Washington, D.C.

To RSVP, contact Kathleen Mohr at kmohr@all4ed.org by December 2. Space is limited.

 

U.S. Department of Education to Host Second National High School Leadership Summit

On December 2-3, the U.S. Department of Education will hold its second annual National High School Leadership Summit in Washington, D.C., as part of its Preparing America’s Future High School Initiative. According to the department, this year’s summit will serve as a “next step” for “coordinating and strengthening the high school improvement efforts that are encouraged by the No Child Left Behind Act and enacted by leaders across the country.” The gathering will allow participants to hear about current high school reform efforts from experts and department officials.

The goals of the Preparing America’s Future High School Initiative are to

  • equip state and local education leaders with current knowledge about high schools through special forums, print and electronic materials, and targeted technical assistance;
  • develop the expertise and structures within the U.S. Department of Education to provide coordinated support and outreach toward helping state and local education systems improve high schools and youth outcomes; and
  • facilitate a national dialogue to raise awareness about the need for significant reform in American high schools.

On Friday, November 12, the U.S. Department of Education will begin a period of “open registration.” At that time, individuals who are interested in attending will receive a registration link through its list-serve (subscribe by emailing highschools@ed.gov). Registration will be on a first-come, first-serve basis.

More information on the summit is available at http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ovae/pi/hs/index.html

 

 

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Every Child a Graduate. Every Child Prepared for Life.