Tuesday, June 17, 2008

High School Graduation Rates

The National Center for Education Statistics reports trends in the high school graduate rate since 1969. This is calculated as the percentage of students who start high school that have received their regular diploma (i.e. not a GED) 4 years later. The estimates for most recent years (the yellow part of the graph below) are projections, since those who started high school in 2005 haven’t had 4 years to complete their degree. The first thing that strikes me is the overall flatness of the line. Overall, levels of education are increasing and those not achieving a high school diploma are excluded from many jobs. GEDs can make up some of the difference, but previous research suggests that the employment characteristics of those with GEDs are more similar to those with no certification than those with a regular diploma. That high school graduation rates went up from the late 1990s to 2005 is promising, but recent declines lead me to question whether these improvements can be maintained.

until recently the federal government reported graduation rates above 80%, but some claim that the actual rate is under 70%. One issue was that accountability systems have schools and districts calculating rates at the local level. This raises a problem when struggling students leave one school to attend another. The original school does not consider him a drop out, but the new school wouldn’t have this student included as a member of the freshman class. Another is the tendency to remove students who receive GEDs from the statistical system or to count them as graduates. As stated above GEDs are not equivalent to high school diplomas. A third issue is raised by special education students. Ambiguities allow officials to manipulate the numbers to present their schools and districts in the most positive light.

Given the importance of earning a high school diploma and the unremarkable record of the United States educational system in bringing students up to this minimal standard of competency, it is important for us to invest in the federal educational data system.

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