High School Dropout Rates for Minority and Poor Students Disproportionately High

Courtney Williams's picture
Friday, October 21, 2011

Debate over the No Child Left Behind revision continues on the Senate floor as lawmakers attempt to find middle ground on how the education law should be changed, and how it can best serve students and teachers while improving the American education system.

At the bottom of discussions of teacher evaluations, school assessments and standardized testing is a focus on how to close achievement gaps and enhance the performance of the bottom 5 percent of schools and students. Legislators want students to be making it through the educational system -- and they want those kids graduating.

A report in July notes that high school dropouts cost between $320 billion and $350 billion annually in lost wages, taxable income, health, welfare and incarceration costs. About a quarter of those who entered high school this year won't earn a diploma, and according to a new report by the National Center for Education Statistics, someone who did not complete high school will earn about $630,000 less over their lifetime than someone who has earned at least a GED.

To add to that, changes to calculations make the situation appear even bleaker. While high school dropouts aren't eligible for 90 percent of the jobs in the economy, an overhaul of flawed measurement formulas that often undercounted dropouts and inflated graduation rates would lead some states to see graduation rates fall by as many as 20 percentage points.

But the new NCES report reports a silver lining: the number of high school dropouts is already decreasing. The report released last week studied dropout and graduation rates between 1972 and 2009. For students aged 15 to 25, 3.4 percent dropped out between grades 10 and 12, down from 5 percent a decade prior and 6.7 percent in 1979.

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