Graduating In Real Time?

, Abraham Taylor, Leave a comment

Look to your right, look to your left. One out of three high school students may not graduate, an education analyst at a Washington, D. C. think-tank found.

“The national graduation rate is not the widely broadcast 85 percent…the correct figure is much closer to 68 percent,” writes Christopher Swanson, author of a recent article, “The New Math on Graduation Rates,” published in Education Week. As alarming as this number sounds, it pales in comparison to another statistic reported by Swanson, who works at the Urban Institute: “Minorities nationwide have little more than a 50-50 chance of earning a diploma.” The apparent discrepancy uncovered by Swanson forces a “recheck” of the “old arithmetic.”

“How could we be so far off?” The inconsistency is due to the lack of “careful” and “uniform” measurements. High school graduation rates have always been a state responsibility; this allows for great disparity in calculation methods. “We have No Child Left Behind to thank for the unpleasant discovery,” writes Swanson. It was NCLB that, for the first time, federally required states to hold their public high schools “accountable for both achievement(s)–test scores and graduation rates.”

The problem with the 85-percent graduation rate calculation is that it comes from a “survey of post-school-age population.” It also includes “private school alumni, lumps regular diplomas together with GEDs (Graduate Equivalency Degrees), and overlooks people who live in prisons and other institutions.”

One huge problem facing lawmakers is a current trend to push low-performing students out of struggling schools. In New York City, for example, public schools have attempted to push these students “into alternative educational programs” where they would “not be counted as dropouts.” Similar cases have also been chronicled in Houston. The root of this problem is that current regulations from the Department of Education allows states to “select their own approaches” and gives them “tremendous flexibility.”

Swanson optimistically points out that “prospects for the future…may not be altogether bleak.” He argues, “No legal impediments bar the Department of Education from putting graduation rates on par with test scores in the accountability game.” It is also possible for states to raise their own standards but Swanson says that “high road is a risky one, since…schools would face federal sanctions should they fail to make the grade.”

Swanson offers three possible solutions to lawmakers:

1. “States should be required to calculate graduation rates using formulas federally approved.”

2. The “Department of Education should independently analyze graduation rates.”

3. “Persistent failure…should carry serious consequences.”

Abraham Taylor is an intern at Accuracy in Media