Friday, September 28, 2007

US High School Dropout Rate

According to the University of Minnesota, the high school dropout rate in the USA is close to 25% [U of Minnesota study finds that US high school dropout rate higher than thought].
University of Minnesota sociologists have found that the U.S. high school dropout rate is considerably higher than most people think -- with one in four students not graduating -- and has not improved appreciably in recent decades. Their findings point to discrepancies in the two major data sources on which most governmental and non-governmental agencies base their findings.

The U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS) is widely used by governmental and non-governmental sources -- from the Annie E. Casey Foundation to the White House -- to report high school dropout rates. The CPS paints a rosy picture, showing dropout rates at about 10 percent in recent years and declining some 40 percent over the past generation. On the other hand, measures of high school completion based on the National Center for Education Statistics’ Common Core of Data survey (CCD) paint a darker picture, with high school completion rates holding steady at about 75 percent in recent decades.
Here's the important question that everyone seems to ignore: What is the optimal high school dropout rate? Surely it shouldn't be zero because that would be setting the bar too low. It probably shouldn't be 50% because that sets the bar too high. What should it be, assuming that lack of ability to complete high school was the only reason for dropping out?

If we're interested in keeping students in high school by addressing those other reasons for dropping out, then how will we know if we're succeeding unless we establish the minimum dropout rate? Is 25% good?

[Photo Credit: "Joining nationwide demonstrations, high-school students in Valparaíso [Chile] take to the streets on May 30 [2006] to protest proposed changes in Chile's public education system." Eliseo Fernandez—Reuters /Landov (Encyclopedia Britanica Online)]


  1. Nice photo!. A note, those chilean students (which fill me with pride) are actually protesting FOR and not against changes in the educational system.

  2. Surely it shouldn't be zero because that would be setting the bar too low.

    Why stop at high school? What's the optimum dropout rate for first grade? Ideally, we should be able to offer high school courses both relevant and suitable for children of all abilities.

    Maybe the better question is how much society is willing to pay for having so many children hating learning.

  3. IMHO founded on personal observation only, it is really difficult to provide all students with educational means that suits them.

    If we are going to open up the question to discuss societal investment as John suggest, we could as well discuss the purpose and means of education.

    For example, if we accept that the future world wide job market is in service areas as the trend goes, the main corpus of students should probably learn to interact with all sorts of people out in the society. They could learn at the web and pass entrance tests for specialized job training later. (Reading, writing, driving, et cetera.)

    The problem would be that they would not know how to attend to work places. So some early and constant habituation would still be necessary.

    The projected ~ 20 % remaining job market with academic character could be culled out from those who willingly wants to attend schools.

    Hmm. That would be a non-egalitarian society. But on the cheap, and perhaps with happier youths and teachers.

    Okay, it isn't a realistic answer, at least today. Um, what was our goals again, and why?