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Book Review of:
Dropouts in America:
Confronting the Graduation Rate Crisis
National Center for School Engagement
August 4, 2006
An initiative of the Colorado Foundation for Families and Children
303 E. 17th Avenue, Suite 400 Denver, CO 80203
Dropouts in America – Confronting the Graduation Rate Crisis
National Center for School Engagement (NCSE) This book review was compiled by the NCSE Research and Evaluation team at The Colorado Foundation for Families and Children. This book was selected because it summarizes decades of research in the school dropout field. The research is high quality, conducted by Harvard Education Press and it gives a quality overview for researchers as well as practitioners.
Dropouts in America – Confronting the Graduation Rate Crisis Edited by Gary Orfield Harvard Education Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2004 Chapter 1: Sketching a Portrait of Public High School Graduation: Who Graduates?
Who Doesn’t Chapter 2: Graduation Rate Accountability Under the NCLB Act and the Disparate Impact on Students of Color Chapter 3: Locating the Dropout Crisis: Which High Schools Produce the Nation’s Dropouts Chapter 4: High School Dropout, Race/Ethnicity, and Social Background form the 1970s to 1990s Chapter 5: The National Dropout Data Collection System: History and the Search for Consistency Chapter 6: Why Students Drop Out of School Chapter 7: High Stakes Testing In Chicago’s Elementary Schools Chapter 8: Accountability and the Grade 9-10 Transition Chapter 9: Whatever Happened to the Class of 2000? The Timing of Dropout in Philadelphia’s Schools Chapter 10: Preventing Dropout: Use and Impact of Organizational Reforms Designed to Ease the Transition to High School Chapter 11: What Can be Done to Reduce the Dropout Rate Chapter 12: Interpreting the Evidence from Recent Federal Evaluations of DropoutPrevention Programs: The State of Scientific Research Chapter 13: Essential Components of High School Dropout-Preventions Reforms Chapter 1: Sketching a Portrait of Public High School Graduation: Who Graduates? Who Doesn’t, by Christopher B.
Swanson, p. 13-40.
This chapter…”provides the most extensive set of systematic empirical findings on public school graduation rates available to date…” so says, Christopher Swanson. He uses the basic definition of Cumulative Promotion Index (CPI) for graduation that meets the standards of the No Child Left Behind federal legislation. The data are qualified to explain sources and respective studies. Swanson delivers comprehensive coverage of this topic. His state-by-state analysis of graduation rates provides race/ethnicity breakdowns clearly showing theracial disparities between White and Asian students on the high end and American Indian, Hispanic and Black students who barely break the 50% level nationally. There are large regional differences with the greatest disparities in the Northeast where “…about one third of American Indians, 35 percent of Hispanic and 44 percent of black students can be expected to graduate from high school.” Gender differences are also reported overall with girls outperforming boys – within racial groups by gender – girls keep a graduation rate lead over boys. The poverty level of a school district also greatly predicts graduation rates at nearly twice the effect of the next strongest predictor. This chapter does an excellent job of laying the groundwork for the rest of the book with good understandable data about the graduation crisis in the US.
Chapter 2: Graduation Rate Accountability Under the NCLB Act and the Disparate Impact on Students of Color, p 41-56 by Daniel J. Losen.
Daniel Losen succinctly describes the school accountability measures instituted by the No Child Left Behind Act, discusses the extent to which they are being enforced, and analyzes the implications of uneven enforcement. He points out that each state determined its own goals for graduation rate and test score improvement – goals used to determine whether or not individual schools achieve Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). The goals were supposed to apply to subgroups of students such as racial minorities or English language learners as well. (Schools that fail to meet AYP targets for two years in a row are designated as “identified for improvement” and may incur sanctions.) In theory, not graduating enough students is cause for failing AYP, but not in practice. Losen posits three problems with the regulations. 1) States promoted methods of calculating graduation rates that violate NCLB requirements, but were given approval anyway. 2) The U. S.
Department of Education mostly eliminated the graduation requirement provision of NCLB for minorities. 3) Every state received approval for its graduation rate plan, even though some states require only.1% annual improvement, and other states left graduation goals out entirely. In practice, AYP now only applies to test score improvement. The result of uneven enforcement of test score versus graduation rate regulations, Losen argues, is a strong push-out effect.
He concludes with a state-by-state summary of graduation rate accountability standards based on whether states have minimum graduation rates that each school must achieve, and whether those rates apply to racial minorities separately. This is an excellent article for educational policy makers, or anyone looking for a clear summary of NCLB requirements and the process by which they were determined.
Chapter 3: Locating the Dropout Crisis: Which High Schools Produce the Nation’s Dropouts, p. 57-84 by Robert Balfanz and Nettie E. Legters.
Balfanz and Legters, in this chapter, observe that most school reform efforts and related funding have been invested in younger children with only 5% of federal funds for low performing schools going to high schools. They contend that we cannot cut back on this investment in younger students but that we need to target new investments in low performing high schools with high dropout rates and low graduation rates. Balfanz and Legters suggest rating schools using a standard measure of “promoting power” that calculate the difference between starting 9th graders and graduating seniors over 4 years. They report that 20% of high schools in the US have weak promoting power with graduation rates of 50% or less. Disturbingly, the promoting power of high schools has diminished over the 1990s with a 75% increase in low promoting schools. Most schools with weak promoting power are majority-minority schools with low-income students located in northern and western cities and throughout the south. The exception to the rule is high schools even with majority-minority enrollment in suburban communities with higher per pupil funding who can promote to graduation as well as predominantly white high schools.
The chapter discusses various approaches to improving the promoting power of high schools by reducing their size or converting them to small learning communities within the larger school settings. However these strategies have yet to be proven to transform the roughly 2,000 high schools in the US with low graduation rates. Because Balfanz and Legters have documented the positive impact of increasing funds to low promoting schools, they recommend an annual 10% increase in Title I federal funding each year to these targeted schools with a requirement that the schools implement reforms that engage students and promote achievement to graduation. They also recommend that middle schools feeding these 2000 high schools need attention particularly in improving the transition to ninth grade. This is an excellent resource for local school accountability committees or those local task forces working on the graduation gap. It could be used as a template for local assessment and action planning. It also has national implications for federal action on funding targeted high schools with weak promoting power.
Chapter 4: High School Dropout, Race/Ethnicity, and Social Background form the 1970s to 1990s, p. 85-106 by Hauser, Robert, Simmons, Solon, & Pager, Devah.
Hauser, Simmons and Pager discuss three factors associated with trends in dropout rates; a) the state of the economy, b) geographic and social composition of students, and c) educational policy. This chapter focuses primarily on geographic and social composition of students. Using the Current Populations Surveys from 1972 – 1998, the authors studied 167,400 youth, aged 14 – 24, for an in-depth exploration of these factors. A dropout was defined as a student who was enrolled in school during October of the survey year and not enrolled the following year.
Based on this data set, the authors deduce that dropouts are greater in urban settings and the likelihood of dropout increases with age and grade. As the average number of children in the home increases, so does the likelihood of dropout. Youth of color, female head-ofhouseholds, and unemployed head-of-households were also associated with a higher likelihood of dropout. Homeownership and post secondary parental education were associated with a lower likelihood of dropout. In fact, each year of post secondary education was associated with a 10% decline in dropout.
The authors briefly cover the two other sources of trends, state of the economy and educational policy. It seems that a better economy increases dropout, however this does not hold true for African American students. The authors hypothesize that opportunities outside of school could be greater for whites than students of color.
Finally, educational policies such as disciplinary practices and grade retention may increase drop out, although these are not discussed in detail. This article may be of interest to educational researchers and program developers who are trying to better understand what geosocial factors are associated with dropout.
Chapter 5: The National Dropout Data Collection System:
History and the Search for Consistency, p. 107-130 by Phillip Kaufman.
Philip Kaufman discusses the pros and cons of education completion and dropout data from the Current Population Survey (CPS) collected by the US Census, the Common Core of Data compiled by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and data from the NCES Longitudinal Studies Program. The importance of this information really lies in the limitations of the data that are largely unconsidered by people who use and quote dropout rates. The author discusses the changes in the questionnaire design which make year to year comparison difficult. Other limitations include how GED completion was measured and how missing data are adjusted for. In addition, the prevalence of sampling and non-sampling errors, including the potential impact of minority under-representation, is explained. A common problem is also distinguishing between transfer students and dropouts; the latter group is often categorized as the former, which reduces the dropout rate. In general, Kaufman recommends longitudinal studies, (including some that are already being conducted) and implementing a national system to track students by a common identification number to improve the data on completion and dropout.
The chapter is very well written and beneficial to anyone who will potentially use national dropout data, especially researchers who are familiar with statistical concepts.
Chapter 6: Why Students Drop Out of School, p. 131-155. byRumberger, Russell W.
Russell Rumberger describes two conceptual frameworks to explain why students drop out of high school. The “individual” framework views the attitudes and behaviors of students in terms of school engagement. He defines school engagement as having both academic and social aspects. Dropping out as a result of three interrelated dimensions of education: educational achievement as measured by grades and tests; educational stability as measured by changes in schools and staying enrolled; and educational attainment as measured by years completed and degrees. Engagement and attainment are both influenced by students’ backgrounds prior to school. The author reviews the literature and discusses factors shown to be predictive of dropout. Dropping out, he points out, is a long-term process, and early academic and behavioral difficulties are indicators of later dropout.
The “institutional” framework includes factors within a student’s family, school and community. Examples of relevant factors include parental education and income, single parent families, student teacher ratios, and school size. Schools affect dropout indirectly through policies and practices that contribute to voluntary withdrawal, and directly via explicit policies that cause involuntary withdrawal. Such policies include rules concerning low grades, attendance, misbehavior, retention, and requiring that students pass a test in order to graduate.
He also discusses alternate views on the mechanisms by which race and ethnicity affect a student’s chances of high school completion.
This article should be of interest to educational policy makers and researchers, and to professionals who work with school age youth.
Chapter 7: High Stakes Testing In Chicago’s Elementary Schools, p157-179 by Allensworth, Elaine.
Elaine Allensworth summarizes the evaluation of the high stakes testing policy that Chicago implemented in its elementary schools in the 1995-1996 school year. The policy required that eighth graders must pass the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS )before matriculated to high school. Failing students received summer school and a chance to retake the test. If, at the conclusion of summer school, the student still did not pass, the student was retained in the eighth grade or sent to a transition school for children who are overage for grade. There is much evidence that children who are teacher-retained are more likely to dropout, however there is little or no evidence of the effect of high stakes testing retention.
Four cohorts were studies; two years prior to policy implementation and two years following policy implementation. The findings show that achievement did indeed improve dramatically for all students.