Rethinking High School Graduation Rates & Trends

Lawrence Mishel and Joydeep Roy
Economic Policy Institute
2006

The graduation-rate debate between Jay Greene and the Manhattan Institute, and Lawrence Mishel and the Economic Policy Institute (which began here and here; subscription required), continues. The latest salvo comes with release of this book, which begins by giving background on the graduation rate argument and moves on to elucidate Mishel's position. But where does the truth lie? The answer, of course, depends on which data sets and methodologies are most reliable. Here the nod goes to Greene. His method essentially compares the number of ninth graders in a particular year to the number of diplomas awarded four years later. Mishel, on the other hand, relies largely on bulky statistical samples--from both the Census Bureau (which simply asks individuals about their level of educational attainment) and the Department of Education's National Education Longitudinal Study (which tracks sets of about 10,000 to 12,000 students per year, interviews them about their educational attainment, and checks their school transcripts to validate responses). This book attempts to explain why Michel's sampling is preferable to Greene's method for determining graduation rates. Greene, Mishel writes, ignores the "9th grade bulge" (students who repeat ninth grade form a bulge, and although they may receive a diploma, it won't be within four years); the unreliability of diploma counts; and how to account for unique populations such as immigrants, prisoners, military personnel, etc. But these idiosyncratic circumstances fail to dethrone Greene's crucial fact that some 30 percent of students--millions each year--who enter high school don't receive diplomas four years later. Call it what you want, but it's a definite problem. To dive into these figures yourself, check out Mishel's book online here.

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