Special Report

Reaction to Diplomas Count 2008

June 24, 2008 3 min read
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In Diplomas Count 2008: School to College: Can P-16 Councils Ease the Transition? the EPE Research Center examined public high school graduation rates for the Class of 2005. The report found that nearly three out of every ten students fail to graduate with their class with a diploma. This amounts to one student lost from the graduation pipeline every 13 seconds of the school year. Despite the challenges facing America’s high schools, the Research Center found that the pace of improvement has been slow, with the nation’s graduation rate increasing by less than a percentage point annually between 2001 and 2005.

The EPE Research Center computes graduation rates for every state, school district, and—for the first time—Congressional district using the Cumulative Promotion Index, a method devised by EPE Research Center Director Christopher B. Swanson. This method calculates the percentage of students entering the 9th grade who will receive a standard diploma within four years.

With only one exception—Alaska— the rates calculated by the research center using the CPI are lower than the rates reported by the states themselves for the class of 2005. The majority of states use calculation methods that tend to produce inflated graduation rates because they incorporate unreliable dropout data in their formulas. States may underestimate the number of dropouts because they lack the resources or data systems needed to accurately account for all students leaving school without a diploma.

The special theme of Diplomas Count 2008 explores the rapid growth of and challenges faced by state-level P-16 Councils. These state-created bodies seek to better align educational institutions from preschool through postsecondary by bringing together key representatives from all levels of education, state government, business, and the community.

What People Are Saying

Since its release, Diplomas Count 2008 has been cited in hundreds of articles, stories, and releases in print, online, and over the air. Here is a sampling of what some people are saying about the report.

Former Colorado Gov. Roy Romer, Chairman of Strong American Schools and the ED in ‘08 campaign, praises the analysis of graduation rates for U.S. congressional districts reported in Diplomas Count, which will allow each Congressional representative to compare his or her district to others in the state and nation:

What I found particularly striking in this report was the break-down of graduation rates by U.S. Congressional district... There are great disparities throughout the map—some districts graduating over 85 percent of their students and some graduating less than 55 percent—and the next president and 50 governors must make solving this dropout crisis a priority.

Bob Wise, President of the Alliance for Excellent Education, also thinks the Congressional district calculations are important and stressed that the report could potentially influence the political process:

[Diplomas Count 2008 gives] members of Congress and candidates for Congressional seats a vivid picture of the state of public education within their communities. This matters because education is of vital concern to Americans—a recent poll shows that only the economy ranks higher... The estimated 1.23 million students not graduating with their peers in the Class of 2008 will cost the nation well over $300 billion in lost wages, taxes, and productivity over their lifetimes.

In addition to feedback about the possible political impact of these findings, policymakers and researchers also reacted to the methodology used by the EPE Research Center. In a statement released by the Economic Policy Institute, researchers James J.Heckman, Paul A. LaFontaine, Lawrence Mishel, and Joydeep Roy, question whether the CPI is an accurate measure of graduation:

We find the measures of graduation rates in Education Week’s Diplomas Count project, computed from diploma and enrollment data, to be exceedingly inaccurate. The main problem is the assumption that the number of students enrolled in 9th grade is the same as the number of students entering high school. This assumption artificially lowers the estimates of current graduation rates, especially for minorities who are more likely to be retained.

Joe Morton, Alabama State Superintendent of Education, is less concerned with the report’s methodology, and instead focuses on the overall importance of graduation rates in the U.S.:

[Alabama’s] making such significant gains when compared to the nation’s gains is encouraging. However, no matter what method that’s used to calculate graduates, we must do better to help our students prepare for the challenges of a global workplace.

Commenting on his district’s graduation rate and commitment to improvement, Wake County Public Schools System Superintendent Dale Burns notes:

If the nation’s top urban school district has a graduation rate of 90 percent and our rate is 79 percent, we will have to work together and provide the resources teachers and students need to meet such a challenging goal.

Concurring with Burns, West Virginia Superintendent of Schools Steve Paine used the report to focus on his goal of improvement:

In West Virginia, we not only support a uniform calculation, we also support transparency of data. I am confident that most would agree that even one dropout is too many. Schools, parents, students, and the community must be willing to take responsibility for students staying in school. We must be ready to take bold moves, work together, and face the dropout issue head on.

What do you think?

What are your thoughts on Diplomas Count 2008? With 1.23 million students failing to graduate on time, what should be done to improve the situation? Can state P-16 Councils help? Are small, incremental increases enough, or should more be done to rapidly increase the numbers?

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