Diplomas Count: An Essential Guide to Graduation Policy and Rates

Tal Kerem

The Graduation Project 2006
Education Week/ Editorial Projects in Education
June 22, 2006

If Diplomas Count--the first in a series of special Education Week reports about graduation rates--is any indication, the light on graduation rates is about to get even hotter. This report features a close look at nationwide graduation totals; a powerful online mapping technology that lets users view graduation data at national, state, and district levels; and an examination of state graduation policies and how they obfuscate the problem by fudging dropout numbers. Diplomas Count estimates that some 70 percent of students receive a regular diploma (not a GED) within four years of high school. This figure is consistent with those from the National Center for Education Statistics (7.5 in 10 receive a diploma) and Jay Greene and Marcus Winters (7 in 10), and at odds with the Economic Policy Institute (8 in 10), and many states who report numbers over 80 or even 90 percent. The report analyzed the percentage of 9th graders who completed high school four years later. And though forced to adjust for missing data--such as grade retention and transfers in and out of a district or state--its methodology is reasonable. The report describes wide variation in state graduation requirements and argues that national graduation numbers have more gaps than a hockey player's grin: racial/ethnic gaps, socioeconomic gaps, gender gaps, and regional gaps. The good news (there is some) is that educators are getting better at identifying students at risk of dropping out, and some communities are developing promising intervention strategies to stanch the dropout flow. You can read it (and play around with the interactive online features) here.

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