New figures show high dropout rate for high-schoolers
Washington Post
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 bad math.

"We are finally moving from a state of denial to a state of acknowledgment,"
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."

Method criticized
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.

New calculation
All 50 governors have embraced the new method, a slight variation on the
formula employed by Education Week, for calculating graduation rates.
Parents will probably see a precipitous drop in graduation rates reported by
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 into the
federal No Child Left Behind law by 2012 as a measure of adequate yearly
progress for every high school, along with test scores and other factors.

Schools will have to meet federal targets for Black and Hispanic students
and other statistical subgroups, as well, a requirement likely to stir
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 percent
graduation rate and said, "I almost got lost, too."