Ya Want High School Data? You Got Some.

By Catherine Gewertz — May 28, 2009 3 min read
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That thud you heard this morning was the Ed Department’s annual Condition of Education report landing on your proverbial doorstep.

You are, I’m sure, all too painfully aware of the condition of American education. But this hefty little baby still has interesting tidbits to offer about high school and college. Some are inspiring. Some are depressing. But either way, they’re worth knowing. At least bookmark it, for cryin’ out loud.

Possibly because I had an otherwise really dull evening last night, I found Section I interesting. Against the backdrop of President Obama’s call for America to retake its place in the world as the nation with the greatest proportion of college graduates, it was intriguing to note that undergraduate enrollment rose 19 percent between 2000 and 2007. Most of that rise was in four-year institutions (25 percent) as opposed to two-year colleges (11 percent).

Some numbers in Section II put sharp outlines around the argument that young people risk floundering financially without college degrees. People 25 to 34 years old earned 29 percent more with a bachelor’s degree than those with associate’s degrees, and 55 percent more than those with only high school diplomas.

Section III tells us that more students are enrolling in college right after high school, but that trend has slowed significantly in the last decade. Between 1972 and 1997, the percent of students enrolling in college the fall after finishing high school rose from 49 to 67. But between 1997 and 2007, it hovered between 62 and 69 percent. And the enrollment rates for students from low- and middle-income families trailed behind those of students from wealthier families by 10 points.

Finishing college is emerging as a national problem, and we see it here in the data. Only 58 percent of first-time students seeking a bachelor’s degree or higher at four-year institutions complete those degrees within six years (and think of who that doesn’t include). Private four-year colleges do much better putting degrees in their students’ hands (65 percent) than do public four-years (55 percent). Black and Native American students had the lowest six-year grad rates (42 and 40 percent respectively), followed by Hispanics (49 percent). White students turned in a 60 percent rate, and Asian/Pacific Islanders show 67 percent.

Before you throw your coffee cup, though, here’s a cheerier bit: the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded to minority students grew by 62 percent between 1997 and 2007, compared with 22 percent for white students. Now more cold water: Only 12 percent of Hispanics, 20 percent of African Americans and 36 percent of whites 25 to 29 years old had earned a bachelor’s degree in 2007. For Asians, it was 60 percent.

Much of what Condition has to say about high school is what we already know (yes, 17-year-olds haven’t improved their performance on the NAEP in decades; yes, poor and minority kids get stuck most often in high-poverty, high-minority schools; yes, black kids get suspended or expelled at much higher rates than peers from other racial groups, etc).

But here are some interesting tidbits. While parent involvement rates are lower at that level than in K-8, the NCES tells us that 83 percent of high school parents report having attended a PTA meeting, and 34 percent report having served on a school committee. (The PTA part surprised me, how about you?)

Get this one: 65 percent of high school students report that their parents checked their homework. (Okay, it’s 95 percent at the K-8 level, but still, I didn’t expect to see two-thirds of high school parents hanging over their kids’ shoulders.) And the rate of high school homework-checking was highest among black parents; 83 percent of black high school students had homework checked by adults, compared with 57 percent of white students, and 59 percent of Asian students. Homework-checking was also more frequent among poor parents (81 percent) than among non-poor parents (61 percent).

Maybe it’s all the times that urban school staffers have complained to me that their problem is that “those parents” don’t value education. But that homework-checking data made me smile.

A version of this news article first appeared in the High School Connections blog.