The following is a transcription of the podcast, “Policy Perspective: The Importance and Impact of Graduation Rates (audio).”
In this podcast, NCLD speaks with Jamie Fasteau, Director of Policy Development at the Alliance for Excellent Education, on the topic of high school graduation rates. The Alliance for Excellent Education is a national policy and advocacy organization that works to make every child a high school graduate, to prepare them for college, work, and to be contributing members of society. Founded in 2001, the Alliance focuses on America’s six million most at-risk secondary school students, those in the lowest achievement quartile who are most likely to leave school without a diploma or to graduate unprepared for a productive future.
Karen Golembeski of NCLD: Our first question today is why are high school graduation rates worthy of our attention and the attention of a national organization like yours?
Jamie Fasteau: Let’s start with looking at some statistics about who’s graduating and who’s not graduating from our nation’s high schools. We know that every school day about 7,000 students drop out of high school. That’s 1.2 million students a year. The national average graduation rate is 70%, and for minority students it’s closer to 50%. We also know that one-third of students are dropping out, another third are graduating but are unprepared for college and the workforce. Only one-third of students are graduating from college prepared for the next stage in life.
We also know that 90% of the fastest growing and best-paying jobs require some post-secondary education. Those jobs will be unachievable for students who don’t get a high school diploma. We also know there’s a cost to our nation for not graduating [students from] our nation’s high schools. For example, if the students who dropped out of the class of 2008 had graduated, the nation’s economy would have benefited from an additional $319 billion dollars in income over [those students’] lifetimes.
Karen Golembeski: Your organization says that graduation rates are fundamental indicators of whether or not the nation’s public school system is doing what it is intended to do. Please explain how graduation rates serve as this indicator.
Jamie Fasteau: How many students are graduating, and who those students are, tells us a lot about the climate and success of a school, district, and state. Achievement of a diploma is a key to the student’s future and our nation’s future, and graduation rates are the ultimate indicator of that success.
We know that the demographics of our nation are changing, and the fact that 50% of our minority students aren’t graduating means that we’re not graduating half of the fastest-growing population in this country.
Karen Golembeski: Please give us a brief overview of how states typically calculate high school graduation rates. Can we use these rates to compare states?
Jamie Fasteau: Currently there are too many ways for a high school graduation rate to be calculated, making it impossible to compare rates across states. Under No Child Left Behind, high school graduation rates are required to be one indicator in determining Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).
Currently the Department of Education allows states to calculate their graduation rates four different ways. The most common way is called the Lever Rate. It’s used by 32 states. It’s inaccurate because it depends on dropout data, which is known to be inaccurate. Students just don’t walk into a school and say, “I’m dropping out today.” So it’s really hard to figure out who’s in and who’s out without using longitudinal data systems.