Saturday, April 5, 2008

Dropout Counting in the News

This past week dropout issues were in the news. Dallas found that their dropout rate is the seventh worst in the nation. However, among cities of a million or more population, Dallas would have been at the bottom of the list, the worst student dropout rate in the nation! This status was also given Dallas for numbers from the graduation class of 2004. Since then the graduation numbers have continued to go down. In 2007 Dallas had the highest percentage of seniors who failed to graduate for any Dallas ISD class since before 1997! For the class of 2007 16% of the seniors failed to receive a diploma! See for the painful numeric details.

By 2007 the graduation rate in Dallas ISD had fallen to 40.5%, 4 percentage points below the 2004 rate!

This week U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings announced that they would be requiring all states to use the same definition for dropout rates nationwide. It is long overdue!

The common dropout definition to be used needs to be simple, easy to track and verify, and fully transparent. In search of the needed transparency these numbers should be reflected easily for each school district in an annually updated spreadsheet of enrollment by grade. That spreadsheet should include the annual count given for diplomas actually granted, and at least 10 years of enrollment & graduation history. A spreadsheet similar to the one at is recommended. Every school district in the nation needs such a simple spreadsheet easily available on their web site. It would expose what is really happening.

Yes, there will certainly be things that happen in all communities that cause these numbers to fluctuate annually. Those events should be explained in footnotes to the spreadsheet and never be allowed to compromise the validity of the numbers given in the spreadsheet. Too much has been hidden for decades about what is happening to our children. Simple true numbers and statistics must be mandated. If any educational administrator is fearful for their employment due to what is reflected, they should be able to explain those fluctuations, but not change the numbers reported.

The goal is to be consistent throughout the US so numbers in every state can be validly compared with those in any other state.