Category Archives: Dropouts

A Report Card for Kansas and the USA

How is Kansas doing on education? There’s good news and bad news, according to the Report Card on American Education, published by the American Legislative Exchange Council.

The report measures states against this question: How well do children (without a special-education plan) who are from poor families doing on the NAEP, or the “Nation’s Report Card?”

Here’s the good news: (Numbers in parenthesis refer to pages in the report)

  • Kansas ranks 7 overall on the performance of low-income, non-special-ed students. (40, 112)
  • Kansas is ranks 4 for 4th grade math, 7  for 8th grade math, and 8 for 4th-grade reading. (113)
  • Kansas ranks 11 on improvements to 4th-grade reading. (114)
  • Kansas ranks 7 in a measure that combines NAEP overall scores and gains for 8th grade reading and math. (117)
  • Kansas gets a “B” for its regulation on homeschooling, which makes homeschooling freely available to families. (40)

And here’s the not-so-good news:

  • Only one-third of grade-four students (36 percent, specifically) are “proficient” in reading. (40)
  • Kansas gets a D+ on education reform, putting it in the same category as 9 other states. (112)
  • Kansas ranks 16 for 8th-grade reading. (113)
  • Kansas ranks 26 for improvement in 4th-grade math scores. (114)
  • Kansas ranks 26 in a measure that combines NAEP overall scores and gains for 4th grade reading and math. (117)
  • Kansas ranks 28 for improvement in 8th-grade math scores and 32 for improvement in 8th-grade reading scores. (115)
  • Kansas got a C- on its academic standards (compared with the NAEP); its proficiency standards have been lowered, not raised. (40)
  • Kansas has no private school choice plans that might give students more options, and its charter school law gets an “F” for retarding the development of charter schools. (40, 119)
  • Kansas does not have mandatory intra and inter-district enrollment (as do 10 other states), again, limiting student options. (40)
  • Kansas gets poor grades for its policies governing teachers: A C- for retaining effective teachers, a D- for identifying high-quality teachers, and a D_ for removing ineffective ones. In addition it does not have alternative routes for certifying teachers, as do 21 states.  (120)

I will add in two other facts not included in the report card:

  • One-fourth (28 percent) of grade-four students are illiterate (scoring “below basic”) on the NAEP. (State profile page, US Department of Education).
  • If you calculate drop-outs by determining how many students who enter ninth grade graduate with a regular diploma four years later, the Kansas dropout late was 26 percent, as calculated by the America’s Promise Alliance. (See a report I wrote about drop-outs in Kansas, drawing on the alliance’s work.)

So Kansas does fairly well by some measures, but not by others. It scores high compared with other states, but not necessarily against countries around the world. The large number of drop-outs and illiterate children is itself a scandal. Finally, the policy environment restricts student options.

Understating the high-school dropout rate

One basic measure of school and student performance is the drop-out rate. While being awarded a high-school diploma is no guarantee of having received an excellent education (whatever that means), it’s a statistically valid fact that drop-outs are at a substantially higher risk for all sorts of trouble, including criminal activity and welfare dependency.

Can the drop-out rates cited by state and district officials be trusted? Some people in Texas are asking questions about the statistics in the Lone Star state. From

A report about Texas school dropouts from the Texas Education Agency paints a rosy but distorted picture of the real problem, says the leader of an organization that has been studying the issue for 25 years.

School dropout experts at two Texas universities agree.

The TEA last week touted a dropout rate of 9.4 percent for the high school graduating class of 2009. But the agency’s own report shows that class, which started with 392,051 ninth-graders, had dwindled to 280,044 students by the time it graduated three years later, creating a combined dropout and attrition rate of nearly 29 percent.

The San Antonio-based Intercultural Development and Research Association [IDRA-ed.]  put the statewide dropout/attrition rate of the class of 2009 at 31 percent, and said it’s much higher for Hispanic and African American students and for large urban school districts.

There’s a large difference between 9.4 percent and 31 percent: The latter represents three times the number of drop-outs as the former, with all the attendant social ills.

Naturally, when the drop-out numbers are high, that doesn’t look good for schools, which has lead to some shenanigans:

“Students who are home-schooled are not included in dropout/attrition rates, and Robledo Montecel said many parents tell her group that school officials urge them to report they are home schooling their children — even if they are not.

Montecel is with the IDRA.

As for Kansas, the most recent report card on graduation rates from EducationWeek, which surveys each state, said that the class of 2007 had a graduation rate of 75.1 percent.

By contrast, the Kansas Building Report Card for 2007-08 shows (PDF) a graduation rate of 89.7 percent in 2007, which could give Kansans a much more optimistic view of Kansas schools than is warranted.

Governor creates drop-out commission

Fresh on the heels of a new report from Education Week on high-school droputs (mentioned here yesterday), Gov. Mark Parkinson has created a commission to study the issue. Kansas Reporter has more.

Dropouts in Kansas

So how did Kansas do in the Diplomas Count 2010 report? Better than average, perhaps, but that’s only because demography is in its favor. Its graduation rate for the class of 2007 was 75.1, besting the national average of 68.8. That puts Kansas as the 17th-best state among the 50 states, though significantly behind Iowa (80.2 percent, rank: 5).

But a few cautions are in order. First, that still means 3 out of 4 students drop out. Perhaps some of them will go on to have lives filled with good work prospects and knowledge and skills required to navigate life. But I suspect most will not. And when you consider all the money and effort expended by the public school system, and to some extent, social services, it’s clear that there’s some failure even on the terms of the public schools.

What happens if we break out the rates by racial groups? Among white students, Kansas dips slightly, to 20 out of 49 states (there was insufficient data for Arkansas). Among blacks, the rate was only 56.6 percent, putting the state at 18 among the 43 states that reported sufficient information to calculate a graduation rate.

I suspect, echoing something I noted in a post on the NAEP, that Kansas’s above-average performance on graduation rates is at least in part a function of its above-white enrollment, given that, for whatever reason, white students as a group score higher academically.

Dropouts in America, 2010

For another day or so you can get free access to Education Week, which is normally gated beyond a subscription-only requirement. The reason for the freebie, presumably, is to entice people to review its  report, Diplomas Count 2010.

As the existence of remedial education classes at colleges across the country prove, having a diploma doesn’t guarantee competence at the college level. But not having one is, statistically speaking a setback.

So how are we doing?

The executive summary isn’t encouraging: The graduation rate for the class of 2007 (the latest year with comprehensive, national data) was under 70 percent, or 68.8. This means that 3 of ever 10 children who entered high school left without a diploma. Imagine if 3 in 10 airplanes never reached their destination!

There are significant racial gaps. Roughly three-quarters of white students graduate, while only half of Blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans do. (That said, three-quarters is not terribly encouraging, either.)

The article data in action describes how various school districts use data systems to track student attendance and achievement. The goal is to get information that can be used to intervene in the lives of students at risk of dropping out. But here are two that caught my eye. In Cincinnati, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation helped support a “small schools” initiative. The school system also implemented a school-choice [within the district, I think] program.

Rather than being assigned to the nearest high school, Cincinnati students choose from a list of schools based on their career interests.

The process, managed electronically, places about 90 percent of students in one of their top two choices.

Perhaps as a result of these two reforms, the graduation rate has risen from 51 percent in 2000 to 91 percent in 2009. Mary Ronan, the superintendent, said ““If you were assigned to the high school down the street and it didn’t offer things you were interested in, there was no hope to keep you in school.”