Fudging drop-out numbers

It’s time to get honest (pdf) about graduation rates, says an Education Trust report.

Number fudging is blatant, writes the Washington Post.

Earlier this year, North Carolina trumpeted a spectacular high school graduation rate of 97 percent at a time when 1 in 3 students in the state, and nearly 1 in 2 African Americans, routinely fails to receive a high school diploma.

. . . If some of the claims sound too good to be true, it is because they are based on “extremely unreliable” data and “ludicrous definitions” of high school dropout rates that vary widely from state to state, according to a report released yesterday by the Education Trust, an education think tank.

North Carolina’s real graduation rate is 64 percent, Education Trust estimates.

Many states also set “laugably low” progress targets, Education Trust says. Boosting graduation rates by one tenth of one percent is enough to meet No Child Left Behind’s requirements in most states.

In an Educational Testing Service poll, Americans gave high schools a C grade. Only 9 percent of those polled think high school students are challenged academically by their courses.

About Joanne


  1. Well, that’s another reason to be proud of my state–Idaho. At least they’re honest about drop-out rates.

  2. The really GREAT thing about being a graduate in NC is the joy of graduating with A’s and B’s, then arriving at UNC-Chapel Hill and being told you need to take remedial English and math courses. I have known, not one but two local school board members who have seen this happen with their kids.

  3. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Since school boards seem to all have been co-opted by the unions, there needs to be an independent rater of school effectiveness.

  4. there needs to be an independent rater of school effectiveness

    That goes back to my main concern about NCLB: that linking testing and penalties/remediation too tightly will compromise the value and accuracy of any test results.

    I have no problem with the Feds choosing a set of standards and a testing protocol– somebody has to, and school administrators have refused to do so at the state level. I also have no problem with the Feds requiring schools to administer tests in return for federal funds. But I would rather let the marketplace administer any penalties for bad test results.

    Of course the latter assumes that a effective marketplace exists. In other words, universal vouchers and the right to transfer between public schools.

  5. Nancy D says:

    Can I throw a question out here? Why is it the schools’ fault if kids fail to get a high school diploma four years after they enroll as freshman?

    Students in Georgia can keep attending school and retaking any classes they fail until they are 21, I think. They can take summer school, night school or online courses if they want to pay for the repeat classes. NO ONE kicks them out for failing to make progress toward graduation.

    Why should it be a reflection on the schools if the kids elect to quit coming and don’t want to take advantage of what the taxpayers will buy for them?

    I don’t mean that we should allow school to lie about “rates.” But why are we worrying about them?

  6. Nancy D wrote:

    Why is it the schools’ fault if kids fail to get a high school diploma four years after they enroll as freshman?

    What party has the job of doing the educating? The kids? No, the public education system has that responsibility and it’s not at all unreasonable to want to know if the job is being done.

    If where you’re going with this is to suggest that education isn’t happening because of the poor quality of the students then you haven’t really thought it through.

    If some percentage of the student population can’t be educated then why should public money be wasted in the pursuit of the unobtainable? Throw ’em out, cut the public ed budget by the percentage of kids that can’t be educated and let’s move on.

    It’s not like some social injustice would be committed. If they can’t be educated then the money spent on trying is money wasted. That tax money could be put to more valuable uses, not the least of which is to be allowed to reside comfortably in the pockets of tax payers.

  7. Nancy D says:

    I think the kids ARE responsible for some of their education, absolutely. That “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink” is a tired ol’ cliche, but it captures pretty much what I mean.

    The schools should be responsible for offering an education that produces citizens ready for the responsibilities of voting and working, and in some (maybe even most) cases, the rigor of college level work. If the students don’t work hard enough to master the work offered, then maybe being a high school drop out is the stigma that they have to carry.

    It shouldn’t be the schools fault. Why would it be?

  8. Nancy D wrote:

    That “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink” is a tired ol’ cliche, but it captures pretty much what I mean.

    No, what you mean is that even if a job isn’t doable that shouldn’t have any impact on whether the public is required to fund that job.

    That’s a ridiculous enough position that it’s impossible to ignore the distinct whiff of self-interest. Not that I see that as much of an indictment, but then I’ve made the philosophical leap to the understanding that teachers aren’t a separate branch of homo sapiens distinguished by extraordinary compassion and sensitivity.

    The fault lies with the fact that the public education system is government-run and government-funded. That ensures that education is just another priority among many and generally not the most important priority of any given school or school district.

  9. Nancy D says:


    You seem to be responding to a point I’m not making. It’s fine by me if school funding is cut to reflect the number of students actually enrolled.

    I do suspect the “drop outs” exposed in the new calculatings were already either off the schools’ rolls (listed for other reasons than “dropping out”) or still attending, so I don’t see how measuring “graduation rates” accurately will really change the funding.

    Cut the funding all you want. Don’t pay for a service not delivered for those kids, sure.

    But don’t treat a decision made by the students to drop out, not attend, fail classes, etc. as a failure on the school’s part.

    Is it my gym a bad gym if I choose not to work out? No, I may be lazy. I wouldn’t ask the taxpayers to subsidize either the gym or myself, but to discuss such a thing as a failure on the part of the gym would be silly.

    So, too, is the the idea that schools are responsible for the students who decide that what schools offer isn’t something they are interested in.