Bush Administration Calls for Common Formula When Examining High School Graduation Rates

Some much-needed attention was brought to national public high school graduation and dropout rates in April. According to a report entitled “Cities in Crises” prepared by Christopher B. Swanson, America’s Promise Alliance and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the nation’s high school graduation rate is hobbling around 50 percent in the metropolitan areas of the country’s 50 largest cities.

The organizations used U.S. Department of Education data from the 2003-2004 academic year at the state level, and concluded that the average national graduation rate overall is around 70 percent. Some further conclusions that were drawn based on their analysis were that three out of every ten high school students are apt to become dropouts; a total of 1.2 million dropout every year; and that there is a 25 percent gap in the dropout rate between whites and “historically disadvantaged minorities.”

Although the report successfully shed some light on a social issue that has taken a back seat to the war on terror, the Bush administration did not hesitate to challenge the accuracy and validity of the report. But as it turns out, because states do not use a standard formula to measure and calculate graduation rates, there is no viable mathematical approach to compare the rates. The inconsistency in the methods used to measure high school graduation rates are a result of the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind policy, which requires states to report graduation rates, but allows them to use their own formulas to generate favorable stats.

On April 1, the Bush Administration announced that Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings would require states to use a “common formula” to measure high school graduation rates. This formula will require states to divide the number of high school seniors receiving a diploma by the number of high school freshmen that entered four years prior. But this formula may also prove to be problematic if the number of students transferring in and out of a school at any given period is not factored in.

Principal L. Nelson Burton of Calvin Coolidge Senior High School in Northwest D.C. is pleased that the school recently upgraded to a fully integrated computer system to track student matriculation, but admits that prior to the upgrade the high school graduation rate was cumbersome to track. “It was very difficult to gauge the dropout rate, said Burton.” We have students that move between PG county and DC all the time. Very few students fully matriculate here.”

The Cities in Crises report indicated that D.C.’s graduation rate was 64 percent, doubling that of its neighbor, Baltimore, which was reported to have a 34 percent graduation rate.

Burton, however, does not feel that tracking the dropout rate should take precedence over the root issues. “The rate doesn’t matter. Fix the reasons not the rate,” he stated. “Ten percent is no better than 50 percent if we’re not addressing the reasons.”

Charles Hatcher, who is the JROTC manager at Calvin Coolidge, agrees that the underlying issues need to take center stage before the rate itself. “The economic attributions need to be considered. Seventy percent of our students come from single-family homes, and they come here to a school where the classrooms are not always conducive to learning. We don’t even have air conditioning when it’s hot, and we should have at least three or four more computer labs.”