Tech Check: High School Graduation Rate

This one’s strictly for the nerds [my hand raised].

I promise to only hit you with these more technical “checkups” (what I’ll be labeling as tech checks from here on) every couple of months or so. Sometimes, I just can’t help myself. Plus, just maybe, some of you (okay, maybe one or two) are interested in a brief breakdown of the debate regarding the dropout/graduation rate for minorities.

So what is it? 50% or 75%? Probably the most popular view is that 50% of blacks/Latinos graduate from high school but there is a sizable contingent who argue that the graduation rate is 75%. A pretty significant difference. What gives?

Numerous researchers have examined the graduation and dropout rate, but the two most publicly vocal about the 50% and 75% graduation estimates are two economists, Jay Greene and Lawrence Mishel, respectively. Both are well respected in the policy and academic worlds but for whatever reason, Greene’s estimate has captured more public attention than Mishel’s.

If you’re really into this topic you can listen to a debate between Greene and Mishel on this issue (you will truly identify yourself as a nerd if you click on that link). If you’re more into reading, you can check out one of Greene’s reports here and Mishel’s here. If none of this interests you and you just want the bottom line, below is a sketch of the greatest hits from both of their positions.

But first, why is the number so hard to pin down? Isn’t it just a matter of counting who graduates each year? Researchers only wish it were that easy. Determining a graduation rate requires being able to account for students from the time of entering 9th grade to graduation. Quite a tall order for national scale data collection. But it’s important because one needs to be able to account for students who move around and in and out of school.

Furthermore, one needs to adjust for retention. This is big because of the 9th grade bulge issue. There is a particularly large number of 9th graders who are retained each year making it inaccurate to make a simple comparison between all 9th graders in say, 2007 and the count of all diplomas in 2011. This is because not all of these 9th graders are truly entering 9th graders. You’d get an underestimate of the graduation rate this way (and overestimated dropout). This poses a major problem for analysis that most researchers readily recognize.

Now that that that’s out of the way, here’s how Greene and Mishel derive their estimates and deal with the bulge:

Jay Greene (the 50% guy):

  • He uses a dataset that counts all of the degrees (Common Core of Data)
  • He agues that using these data are more accurate than other data due to the fact that it is a count of all diplomas rather than an estimate based on a sample.
  • He adjusts for the 9th grade bulge by averaging 8th through 10th grades. He admits it to be simplistic but also argues it to be accurate.

Lawrence Mishel (the 75% guy)

  • He mostly relies on a national longitudinal dataset (NELS) that uses a large national sample of students and follows them over time.
  • He argues that this is dataset is one of the best around for estimating the graduation rate because it can accurately track students over time.
  • In his opinion, since one can track kids over time, with these data, one has a more accurate measure of the 9th grade bulge.

The bottom line. Both make strong arguments and you’ll have to make the call for yourself as to which line of reasoning is more persuasive. I’m betting that the reality is somewhere between the two (hmm, sounds familiar).

One thing that most agree on though is that there are certain areas and subgroups of blacks for whom the dropout rate is shocking. Even Mishel, the same guy who claims the dropout crisis to be overblown, mentioned how “horrifying” it was that his analysis showed that less than 40% of young black men in Chicago had completed high school. Scary.

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19 Responses to “Tech Check: High School Graduation Rate”


  1. 2 Mike December 12, 2007 at 6:56 pm

    Janks,
    Please correct me if I’m not remembering correctly, but in your film, don’t you state the graduation rate to be somewhere in the 70% range?

    The chart you linked to is a chart for enrollment (and highest grade completed). For the reasons I noted, dropout and graduation rates can not accurately be determined from that chart alone. Adjustments need to be made. I’d recommend taking a look at the two reports by Greene and Mishel referenced in this post and/or the audio file of their debate. These resources also speak to the pros and cons of the different datasets researchers use that could help with some of the information you are looking for. I don’t know if it will help with the bet you made since there is pretty strong evidence on both sides.

    By the way, to be clear, the 50% and 75% rates I mention don’t refer to dropout rates–they’re graduation rates.

  2. 3 JJ December 13, 2007 at 9:43 pm

    Thanks for the “Tech Check” re: black highschool graduation rates. I agree with you that the graduation rate is probably between 50% and 75%. I feel it is probably around 70%. The film “What Black Men Think” indicated it was around 74%. I found Janks film interesting with some valid points. However, after reading his comments based on an enrollment chart, I wonder if there might be some serious statistical errors in his film.

  3. 4 Mike December 16, 2007 at 4:37 pm

    Yes, until the data collection on dropout improves it will difficult to have accurate stats on national rates. Your guess at the true rate may very well be correct. As for possible inaccuracies in Janks Morton’s movie, “What Black Men Think,” I will let him address that here if he’d like. I’ve commented on his movie before here after he questioned some of my stats in my op-ed. I didn’t receive a response from him.

  4. 5 Zack December 18, 2007 at 11:25 pm

    Thanks for the detailed statistical analysis, which you sent to Janks. I learned some things from it. He probably didn’t respond because he was either too ashamed for what he said, or he just couldn’t comprehend it. It’s probably the latter. Either way, a man who ‘supposedly’ cares about how black men are perceived, would have had the decency to respond and acknowledge your in-depth work. Isn’t that part of what his film is supposed to be about?

    Maybe he’s in it for the money. Afterall, in the film he did say “it’s all about the money.”

  5. 6 WBMT December 20, 2007 at 6:31 am

    some more inflammatory and incidious commentary again….actually can’t keep up with all posts and responses because of my travels…data I used to support claims from the film located here…

  6. 7 Mike December 20, 2007 at 8:00 am

    Janks,
    I’m not sure what you are referring to as “inflammatory and insidious.” I mentioned that dropout rates could not be determined by the enrollment chart you previously posted. I also questioned the comment that you wrote here where you said you couldn’t find a graduation rate anywhere between 50% and 75%. Yet in your movie and the chart you just linked to (from the Current Population Survey–explained some here,), both indicate rates in that range. I’m confused by your comments.

  7. 8 WBMT December 20, 2007 at 8:03 am

    He probably didn’t respond because he was either too ashamed for what he said, or he just couldn’t comprehend it. It’s probably the latter. Either way, a man who ’supposedly’ cares about how black men are perceived, would have had the decency to respond and acknowledge your in-depth work. Isn’t that part of what his film is supposed to be about?

    Maybe he’s in it for the money. Afterall, in the film he did say “it’s all about the money.”

    wasn’t directed at you Mike…

  8. 9 WBMT December 20, 2007 at 8:10 am

    I also wanted to make clear my point about the census data being more accurate. I was referencing specifically the calendar year 2000. The NCES did not collect data (12 month non duplicated head count) for SP/FL 1999 and SP 2000, and that the JPI data for that year 603,000 was the mid year for forecast for FALL enrollment only, they year end FALL enrollment count only tabulated by NCES was 660,000.

    As of 2005 NCES reports post secondary degree granting institutions (non-duplicated) head count for Black Men at 1,090,000, BJS counts 801,995 for jails and prisons (duplicated headcount)…

  9. 10 Mike December 21, 2007 at 1:19 pm

    It is true that the unduplicated headcount of black men in postsecondary education from NCES is 1,090,561 for 2005. However, it is important to note that this number includes about 2,000 non-degree granting schools. When people think of college, they usually think of degree-granting schools. This unduplicated count you mention is different from the group of schools in the fall headcount that you cite which only included degree-granting institutions.

    The NCES fall count of black males in college is a snapshot at a particular time point just as the BJS count is a snapshot of the number of black men in jail and prison at a particular time. So they are fair comparisons to make. Comparing the NCES unduplicated count you mention, to the BJS number is akin to comparing a snapshot in time to a whole year and makes less sense. Ideally, one would compare unduplicated enrollment counts from degree-granting schools to the unduplicated count of black men in jail and prison. Unfortunately, as far as I know, BJS does not provide an unduplicated headcount so that is not possible.

    One other point… It is not accurate to say that the BJS number of black men in jail/prison is “duplicated.” Just because they don’t provide a full-year unduplicated count does not automatically mean they are counting the same prisoners more than once (which is what “duplicated” would mean). It is possible that this happens, but not a given.

  10. 11 WBMT December 21, 2007 at 2:00 pm

    after speaking with the BJS last spring they assured me that this was a duplicated or the term you may chose to describe the multiple count, or the replicative count assembled in the 864,000. Additionally they affirmed that as a incarcerate navigates from Prison to jail back to prison and even to home restraint, that individual is tabulated towards the total annual count by each individual facility annually.

    Regarding 1,090,561 is the non-duplicated head count for all facilities, got my numbers crossed…The Non duplicated Degree granting instituion count was 1,049,687

  11. 12 Zack December 21, 2007 at 8:19 pm

    I really don’t know why Janks is whining about “inflammatory and insidious” comments when he does it himself.

    Take for instance, his response to Mike’s op-ed in the Baltimore Sun: “Please stop dumbing us down, do more fair and accurate research, and before publishing and assuming the worst in us”. IMHO, those words are “inflammatory and insidious”. I personally felt offended by Jank’s comments because I agreed with Mike’s op-ed, and I also agreed with Mike’s detailed statistical analysis, which Janks has yet to respond to. To add more insult, Janks sub-headlined his response to Mike’s op-ed with: “you know why I have no patience with this guy”. Not only was his remark ‘inflammatory and insidious’, it was a divisive. Does Janks think he has a the final word on how black men should think? Should we all take his word and stats as gospel?

    Jank’s excuse of not being able to respond, because of his travels, is weak and pathetic. If he has time to throw out demeaning comments, he has time to respond to a detailed statistical analysis— which was in response to his questions and accusations. There were many of us readers who wanted to know how Janks was going to back-up his ‘nasty’ comments with his own statistical analysis. From his lack of response he apparently had none.

    Jank’s recent comment to this blog’s Tech Check: “I can’t seem to find 50% or 75% or anything in between”. Once again, not only did it appear that Janks was making his usual insult, his rationale was outrageous because it is not possible to determine dropout/graduation rates with only an enrollment chart. That alone told me and probably a lot of others that they had better be cautious about Janks numbers because they could be off…way off! Again, he did not comment on that error, either…too busy with travels, Janks?

    Finally, if Janks must peer from behind his GQ label, and cut down others , at least remove the “G”…it doesn’t fit in with his cowboy nature.

  12. 13 WBMT December 21, 2007 at 9:10 pm

    My Points succinctly:

    There are more Black Men in College than in Jail Regardless of age
    1,049,000 to 864,000

    Black Male HS Dropout rates from the chart were also reflective of non-enrollment from the previous year and have been over-exaggerated (9th grade surge, and migrations)

    Black Male graduation Rates are historic Highs: 74.2% (differnt chart posted at my blog)

    And several other often misquoted statistics regarding black men that skew us negatively in our families, community and society are addressed through the film.

    I’ve come to a place to respectfully disagree with Mike, and we got off to a rocky start,because of some earlier remarks (by me) but I would hope to think he has a pretty good feel for the transition in the discussions, and my approach.

    However your chiming in and immediately attacking (and continued) rubs me slightly the wrong way. But keep it coming Zach, I’m sure you have just begun to scratch the surface of my, inadequcies, excuses and short-comings.

    Is it too late for me to retract my latest insidious and inflammatory remarks?

  13. 14 Zack December 22, 2007 at 6:05 pm

    Which ones are you referring to? The ones you made on this blog or the denigrating ones that followed on wbmt the next day?

  14. 15 jj December 23, 2007 at 5:32 pm

    Just read Janks’ comments at forums’blog site. That guy has bad motives.

  15. 16 Zack December 25, 2007 at 2:03 pm

    Janks, below are your comments recently found on a blog:

    “I’m at place where I will start referencing Booker T’s quote when it comes to Mr. Strambler and his defense of the more demonized perspectives of Black Male Identity:

    “There is another class of colored people Having learned that they are able to make a living out of their troubles, they have grown into the settled habit of advertising their wrongs — partly because they want sympathy and partly because it pays”
    Janks – Director “What Black Men Think”

    Janks, I have read Mr. Strambler’s comprehensive analysis, found in the Baltimore Sun op-ed, and I can find ‘nothing’ where he is “defending any demonized perspectives of Black male identity”, as you have stated. The only words that come close to any ‘demonization’ have been your own inflammatory and insidious words.

    Mr. Strambler’s character has been honorable. That is, he hasn’t used inflammatory and insidious language against anyone like you have. He has been respectful of everyone’s opinion, including yours. He has been an upstanding brother who has written an intelligent in-depth analysis to show his position. Janks should try that, instead of ‘mudslinging like a two year-old.’

    Besides myself, there are many other black men who agree with his position, and I resent your back-handed insinuation that any black man who agrees with Mr. Strambler’s position and does not agree 100% with Janks view is ‘demonizing the Black Male Identity’.

    Your use of Booker T’s quote clearly shows your malicious intent to disgrace him and discredit the rest of us who don’t agree with you 100%. Who the hell do you think you are? God? FYI: there is only one God and it’s not you. Booker T’s quote pertains more to you than anyone I know because it is “you—Negro” who is trying to create and “make a living out of trouble”, esp. among black men. No responsible man makes your comments, only an immature child does that.

    Putting down others doesn’t make you look better; nor does it make you become what you are not. GROW UP!

  16. 17 tbarksdl January 2, 2008 at 7:12 am

    Surely these are the most relevant statistics on this whole subject:
    “The gender gap in graduation rates is particularly large for minority students. Nationally, about 5 percentage points fewer white male students and 3 percentage points fewer Asian male students graduate than their respective female students. While 59 percent of African-American females graduated, only 48 percent of African-American males earned a diploma (a difference of 11 percentage points). Further, the graduation rate was 58 percent for Hispanic females, compared with 49 percent for Hispanic males (a difference of 9 percentage points). ”
    http://www.manhattan-institute.org/html/cr_48.htm

  17. 18 Mike January 2, 2008 at 10:22 am

    tbarksdl,
    Thanks for the comments. FYI, TheCheckup is now at: http://communitycheckup.com/. Please go there to see my reply. You can find this specific post here:

    http://communitycheckup.com/2007/12/12/tech-check-high-school-graduation-rate/


  1. 1 Brandon Colker Trackback on March 10, 2015 at 6:26 pm

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