New figures show high dropout rate for high-schoolers
May 11, 2007
Daniel de Vise
WASHINGTON - First lady Laura Bush and national education leaders
have unveiled an online database that promises to provide parents
across much of the nation the first accurate appraisal of how many
students graduate from high school on time in each school system.
The statistics paint a dire portrait: Seventy percent of students
nationwide earned diplomas in four years as of 2003, the latest data
available nationally, a much lower rate than that reported by the
vast majority of school systems.
Education Secretary Margaret Spellings said the data show that half
of the nation's dropouts come from a small group of largely urban
"dropout factories," high schools "where graduation is a 50-50 shot
or worse." She scolded state and local education officials for
masking the problem by publishing inflated graduation rates based on
"We are finally moving from a state of denial to a state of
she said, speaking in Washington at a summit titled "America's
Silent Epidemic" on Wednesday. "It's hard to believe such a
pervasive problem has remained in the shadows for so long."
Most states continue to report graduation rates by a method that,
while accepted by the federal government, has been rejected by much
of the academic community and was roundly criticized this week by
federal officials. They estimate the graduation rate based on the
number of students known to have dropped out. The problem is, few
public high schools track students who drop out.
"In some states," Spellings said, "a student is counted as a dropout
only if he registers as a dropout. That's unlikely."
The publication of the new national database, compiled by the trade
journal Education Week, signals a sweeping change in how graduates
are counted. The site tabulates graduation data for school systems
based on simple attrition, tracking the dwindling size of a high
school class from the fall of freshman year to graduation day.
The summit marks a growing national sense that high schools are
facing a dropout crisis. The extent of the problem - only two
students in three graduate with their class - has been clear for
years within the education community but not among members of the
general public, who, according to surveys, believe that nearly 90
percent of students graduate from high school.
Speakers stressed that dropout rates are particularly high among
Black and Hispanic students, especially males.
All 50 governors have embraced the new method, a slight variation on
formula employed by Education Week, for calculating graduation
Parents will probably see a precipitous drop in graduation rates
many high schools.
"I think you have to be honest with the people," said Mike Easley,
Democratic governor of North Carolina, who participated in a panel
discussion this week with two other governors.
Spellings also announced that graduation rates will be incorporated
federal No Child Left Behind law by 2012 as a measure of adequate
progress for every high school, along with test scores and other
Schools will have to meet federal targets for Black and Hispanic
and other statistical subgroups, as well, a requirement likely to
considerable anxiety in low-performing school systems.
Jynell Harrison, a 19-year-old graduate of Central High School in
Providence, R.I., who is Black, lamented her school district's 54
graduation rate and said, "I almost got lost, too."