In the past, national high school graduation rates sometimes did not receive the attention they deserved because of questions surrounding their reliability. With the enactment of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the U.S. Congress and President Bush agreed to a much more accurate (and simpler) method to measure graduation rates.
As evidence of the confusion surrounding the old reporting method, a recent audit commissioned by the Houston Independent School District (HISD) found that Houston schools do not know how many teens quit school without graduating. While auditors did not say that HISD intentionally manipulated the numbers, the audit found evidence of shortfalls in the district’s record keeping. As a result, HISD school profiles show a dropout rate of only 1.5 percent, while, at the same time, reporting a graduation rate of only 72 percent.
NCLB defines graduation rate as the percentage of students, measured from the beginning of high school, who graduated with a regular diploma in the standard number of years. This methodology is consistent with that used by Jay Greene of the Manhattan Institute in his report,High School Graduation Rates in the United States, adopted by the Alliance in Left Out and Left Behind: NCLB and the American High School.
This new measurement usually results in lower graduation rates-and higher dropout rates-than those that have been reported in the past to the U.S. Department of Education. For instance, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the national high school completion rate in 2000 was 86.5 percent-compared with 69 percent in the Greene study. This difference exists because the NCES numbers include students who have a GED or have obtained a diploma or its equivalent by the age of 24. The Greene study only measures students who receive a high school diploma on time.
Greene’s numbers for individual states are shocking and range from a low of 55 percent for Florida to 87 percent in New Jersey; in seven cities, graduation rates are below 50 percent. The City of Cleveland’s graduation rate is 28 percent.
According to the Alliance report, the failure of so many students to graduate from high school is cause for alarm and suggests that many American high schools, as they now exist, have become dysfunctional and would never be tolerated in the business world:
“No hospital, for example, would retain the confidence of the public if its patient survival rate equaled the 28 percent graduation rate of the Cleveland high schools. No profit-making delivery company like UPS or Federal Express would retain consumer confidence if its on-time delivery rate equaled Houston’s graduation rate of only 52 percent.”
|High School Students Are Being Left Behind