School board members in Pittsburgh are questioning a RAND Corporation finding that only 64% of Pittsburgh’s public high school students graduate within 5 years. The study, which was commissioned by city school Superintendent Mark Roosevelt, says that the dropout rate for Pittsburgh was average for a large, urban district, but lower than the 74% graduation rate that it calculated for the entire state.
“This is misleading and can be hurtful to people who have worked so hard,” said Board member Mark Brentley Sr. “This is one company’s opinion or guesstimate and can be damaging if it’s released. Let’s dig more, then put out something more accurate, and if it’s close to those numbers, let’s go with it and stand by it.”
RAND, however, is already standing by its study, contending that its calculation method is more accurate than the one the state uses. It says that the study “represents an advance in the measurement of graduation rates because it followed individual students from their initial entry into high school until they either graduated or dropped out.” The official state-reported graduation rate for the city of Pittsburgh is 74%; however, that calculation ignores several groups of students who are likely to drop out.
When broken down into student subgroups, the RAND report finds a significant graduation rate gap between non-black and black students and between male and female students. It notes that 70% of non-black students graduate in 5 years, compared to only 58% of black students. Sixty-nine percent of females graduate in 5 years, versus only 59% of male students.
The RAND study estimates that 5-year graduation rates vary from 52% to 85% among the 11 high schools in the Pittsburgh Public Schools system. At the high end are Pittsburgh High School for the Creative and Performing Arts and Perry Traditional Academy, which have graduation rates of 85% and 80%, respectively. Westinghouse High School and Peabody High School are at the bottom of the rankings, with graduation rates of 52% and 53%, respectively.
“The differences in graduation rates among the high schools in Pittsburgh are dramatic,” said Brian Gill, one of the RAND researchers who conducted the study. “Identifying and understanding these differences is the essential first step toward developing interventions to reduce the dropout rate in schools across the city.”
Pittsburgh is in the process of creating a rich electronic student data system that can follow students through high school and across district lines. Not only can such a system reduce the uncertainty about what happens to students who leave a school district and thereby provide more accurate graduation rates, but it can also help to identify which students are at risk of dropping out.
“Angry board spurns dropout study” is available at http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/06194/705557-298.stm.
The complete RAND report is available at http://www.rand.org/pubs/working_papers/WR372/.
|Save the Date: U.S. Chamber Education and Workforce Summit to be held October 4-6
On October 4-6, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce will hold its Education and Workforce Summit. Entitled “Programs and Policies that Keep America Competitive,” the summit will feature speakers such as U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, Jim Hunt, former-Governor of North Carolina, Edward Rust, CEO of State Farm Insurance, and many others.
More information on the summit is available at http://www.uschamber.com/events/ViewEvent.htm?eventID=580.
With schools around the country out for summer, and Congress set to recess until after Labor Day, the Alliance newsletter—although not the Alliance staff—will be taking a summer vacation during the month of August.
The next issue of Straight A’s: Public Education Policy and Progress will be dated September 5.