(Part of a series looking at the 2008 Diplomas Count report from Education Week; you can find other articles here)
In a recent class on school communication I listened to a presentation by a teacher from Wilbur, Washington, which abuts the Colville Indian Reservation, talk about the dropout problems that his district has with Native American students. As minority groups go the Native American population has it worse than any other group when it comes to graduating high school on time.
It made me think of just how many variables go into figuring out just who is a graduate and who isn’t. “On-time graduation” is easy enough on it’s face—divide the number of graduates by the number of kids who enrolled 4 years earlier, and there you go—but even that figure is going to be colored by kids who move to Washington as 10th graders, or those kids who are enrolled here as Freshmen but leave before they are seniors.
Then consider overall graduation rate. Is a kid who drops out as a sophomore but goes back 4 years later and gets his GED a graduate? What of the student who drops out of a district (say, Vancouver), but re-enrolls in a different district’s alternative high school program (say, Portland) and graduates from there—a drop out, or not? How about the migrant student who goes back to Mexico after a semester in Sunnyside?
It’s a complicated metric, and the piece that I perceive that we’re missing is why these kids are classified as dropouts. The designation tells us nothing, really—it’s the story behind the designation that matters, and it’s that background that I think will best guide us towards fixing the problem in the future. We know where to go; it’s just a matter of finding the right way to get there.