Dropout Tracking Report: An analysis of dropout problem schools in Ohio’s six Race to the Top regions

Nationally, dropout rates have consistently declined over the past twenty years. According to the U.S. Department of Education’s estimates, 12.1 percent of seventeen- to twenty-four-year-olds had dropped out of school in 1990, while in 2010 just 7.4 percent had dropped out. This is a demonstrably positive trend in American education. However, as this report documents, not all is well in schools’ efforts to get all their students to graduation. The researchers from the newly formed Ohio Education Research Center find that some of Ohio’s schools have massive dropout-rate problems. Using student-level data collected by the state Department of Education from 2006 to 2010, the analysts report dropout counts and rates for Ohio’s high schools, both district and charter. While the report is chock-full of data, the pieces that are most jaw dropping relate to Ohio’s virtual and “dropout-recovery” schools. For example, in 2009–10, Virtual High School, operated by Cincinnati Public Schools, had a 93 percent dropout rate (196 dropouts over the school year, relative to a baseline high school enrollment of 211) and the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) had a dropout rate of 53 percent (2,908 dropouts relative to an enrollment of 5,468). The dropout rates for Ohio’s brick-and-mortar dropout recovery schools were worse, some greater than 200 percent, meaning that these schools had more than twice the number of dropouts than their baseline enrollment. These appalling statistics should call into question the efficacy of Ohio’s virtual and dropout-recovery-school programs. Still, these statistics could be more illusion than reality, for dropping out of school tends to be a process over time rather than a discrete event. Hence, it is not resolved whether dropouts should be entirely attributed to a student’s final schooling destination—a thorny issue that the report acknowledges. For instance, consider a student who went to Cleveland Metropolitan School District in grades K–8 but then went to one year at a dropout-recovery school before dropping out. Should the dropout-recovery school be held wholly accountable? Probably not. Nevertheless, as the report highlights, there are too many “dropout factories” among Ohio’s high schools—and, as evidenced, too many of the state’s second-chance “recovery” efforts fail to get our high schoolers to the finish line.

SOURCE: Joshua Hawley, et al., Ohio’s Race to the Top Dropout Tracking Report (Columbus: Ohio Education Research Center, 2013).

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