The Washington Times
April 2, 2008
Nearly one in three students drop out of high school before graduating. Only half of black and Hispanic students graduate on time. These are tragic, sobering statistics.
As reported by Amy Fagan of The Washington Times on Tuesday (April 1, 2008), the numbers from America’s Promise Alliance show a disparity between urban-suburban graduation rates of more than 35 percentage points. As few as 25 percent in some urban school districts graduate on time, compared to 75 percent of suburban schools (and even that is too low). The trend is not improving.
A notable list of city and state leaders, government officials and urban organizations have forged together to address this “crisis.” Many education experts attribute part of the problem to schools that “hyper-inflate” graduation rates in addition to the schizophrenic standards used to calculate the rates. U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings said Tuesday: “One reason the high school dropout crisis is known as the ‘silent epidemic’ is that the problem is frequently masked or minimized by inconsistent and opaque data reporting systems.”
In other words, different schools use different measures to calculate dropout and graduation numbers. New Mexico counts 12th graders who graduate (not those who may have dropped out before the 12th grade); some states only count dropouts as those who fill out a written declaration. Still other states include GED recipients as graduates (even though most of them are dropouts).
That is just part of the problem. No matter “how” the numbers are calculated, one cannot ignore how abysmal the numbers actually are. Alliance founder Colin Powell called the problem a “catastrophe.” We couldn’t agree more.
The cities of Detroit and Baltimore are among the worst in our nation (with 24.9 and 34.6 percent graduation rates, respectively). The irony is that these “urban” school districts receive some of the highest per-pupil funding in the country. Detroit receives $11,000 per pupil, while Baltimore gets $9,600. The national average is $8,700. New York state is the highest at $15,000.
What does the U.S. Department of Education propose to do to help combat this dilemma? It will institute what it’s calling a uniform graduation rate under No Child Left Behind. In other words, every school must use the same standard to measure graduation and dropout rates. Education experts at the Manhattan Institute are calling the decision “a major victory for school accountability.”
The Department of Education says in the coming weeks it will “take administrative steps” and convene summits to decide which dropout “standard” to adopt. This is a department (and administration) that has been credited with “spending more on K-thru-12 education in the first three years, than Bill Clinton did in six.” Yet in many urban schools, we can’t graduate 75 percent. Action, accountability and standards are great concepts. Still unanswered is why schools that get the most money are still the worst performers? Who is held accountable for that?