Diplomas Count 2010: Graduation by the Numbers--Putting Data to Work for Student Success
Editorial Projects in Education
Did you know that just 2 percent of Americans earned high school diplomas in 1870? That’s just one of the tidbits you’ll find in this year’s Diplomas Count (find 2009, 2008, 2007, and 2006 here). In addition to the usual graduation statistics update, this edition attempts to chr onicle “data in action,” i.e., how the smart use of information can raise graduation numbers, mainly by identifying students at risk for dropping out. As usual the news isn’t good: The graduation rate hovers around 70 percent, having actually declined slightly from 2005 to 2007 (the most recent year of available data). But that’s somewhat misleading, because while the overall graduation rate has fallen, rates for every racial group have improved. This is Simpson’s Paradox in action, as the lower overall number can be attributed to the fact that the population of students most at risk of dropping out—minorities, especially Latinos—is composing an increasing percentage of the overall student body. Perhaps most interesting is that just twenty-five of the nations’ 11,000 school districts account for a whopping 20 percent of all dropouts, or 250,000 students. New York City and Los Angeles are the worst offenders, each failing to graduate more than 40,000 students every year. Admittedly, these districts are the nation’s largest and would statistically have more dropouts than smaller ones, but it’s also a lesson in how much difference data systems could make by being used well in just a handful of places. The accompanying journalistic pieces are heartwarming: School leaders responding to data with tutors, coaches, and mentors; teachers tracking down missing students and helping them enroll in summer school; and district and state leaders improving the use of data by tracking across borders, even state lines, to make sure no child falls through the cracks. The bottom line is this: Dropouts remain a huge problem, but robust and consistent use of data is a promising solution. Read it here and check out the accompanying web materials here.
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