Weighing In on the Graduation Rate Debate (Dan Losen)
(Note: Dan Losen was quoted in this Washington Post story on graduation rates. We linked the story in today’s news, where Dan left the following comment. We are posting it here with his permission. -ed.)
I’m among the experts debating this issue. I’m disappointed in Mishel whose work I usually hold in high esteem. I’ve read Mishel’s book and it misleads the reader by ignoring obvious inconsistencies in data on New York City, Florida and Chicago that he relegates to the appendix. In fact, wherever Mishel looks at actual student record data that he deems reliable, he too finds a dropout crisis. This is contrary to his own conclusions based on surveys with admitted problems of years surveyed, sample design, and undercounts. Specifically, Mishel’s survey-based estimates of the national rate graduation rates are 15% to 35% higher than the actual record data he argues are accurate in Florida, Chicago and New York City, the places he looked at more directly.
Mishel finds that Florida’s four year graduation rate for Blacks is about 55%, and Hispanics about 60%, and these rates Mishel admits are inflated by counting GED recipients as graduates. In Chicago, Mishel finds that Black 19 year old males have a graduation rate of 39% and Hispanic males 51%. In New York City Mishel points to an extended 7 year completion rate for all students of just 60%. The New York City rates he cites are actually about 44% for the 4 year graduation rate according to the State of New York. Mishel ignores the fact that only the 4 year rate meets the requirements for evaluating schools and districts under the No Child Left Behind Act.
These alarmingly low numbers are consistent with the analysis from Chris Swanson and many other researchers, besides Jay Greene, that we have relied upon at Harvard.
Mishel’s own numbers indicate a crisis. There is an urgent need to address the crisis facing minority youth. Improving the data collection should be part of these efforts rather than cause for further delay.
Finally, Mishel offers no useful recommendations and would have us wait many years until we have more accurate data before we address the problem. He acknowledges the crisis in urban schools where we find high percentages of minority youth yet appears to want to stay the course, which would continue to put minority students at a great disadvantage.
Daniel J. Losen is a Senior Education Law and Policy Associate with the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University. He is also a co-author of Losing our Future: How Minority Youth are Being Left Behind by the Graduation Rate Crisis.