Tuesday, February 15, 2005

What does this education study really say?

Posted by Craig Westover | 10:12 AM |  

The Manhattan Institute has released a study of national graduation rates showing that, nationwide, 71% of public school students in the class of 2002 graduated from high school with a regular diploma. Only 34% of all students in that class left high school with the qualifications necessary to apply to a four-year college.

Manhattan Institute scholars Jay P. Greene and Marcus A. Winters also calculated public high school graduation and college readiness rates for each state. Because the requirements to graduate from high school are set lower than the requirements to apply to a four-year college, many high school graduates are ineligible to enroll. Not surprising given recent publicity, in Minnesota the difference in graduation rates between white and African-American students is particularly large.

The study finds that Minnesota's graduation rate went from 86% in 1991 to 84% for the class of 2002, which ranked the state 5th in the nation that year. However, only 33% of public school students in the class of 2002 left high school in Minnesota's with the skills necessary to attend a four-year college.

Minnesota's public high school graduation rate was 88% for white students, which ranked 2nd in the nation, while its graduation rate for African-American students was 54%, which ranked 24th out of the 28 states for which information was available to calculate an African-American graduation rate.

Other national findings include:
The national high school graduation rate for all public school students remained flat over the last decade, going from 72% in 1991 to 71% in 2002.

Nationally, the percentage of these students who left high school with the skills and qualifications necessary to attend college increased from 25% in 1991 to 34% in 2002.

(The authors argue that the finding of flat high school graduation rates and increasing college readiness rates is likely the result of the increased standards and accountability programs over the last decade, which have required students to take more challenging courses required for admission to college without pushing those students to drop out of high school.)

There is a wide disparity in the graduation rates of white and minority students. In the class of 2002, about 78% of white students graduated from high school with a regular diploma, compared to 56% of African-American students and 52% of Hispanic students.

Nationally, there is also a large difference among racial and ethnic groups in the percentage of students who leave high school eligible for college admission. About 40% of white students, 23% of African-American students, and 20% of Hispanic students who started public high school graduated college-ready in 2002.

There is very little difference between the number of students who graduate from high school college-ready and the number of students who enroll in college for the first time. (This indicates that most students who have the skills necessary to attend college, do so; there is not a large pool of students who don't attend college because of a lack of funds or other non-academic factors.)
Two things ought to jump out at you from this study.

First and obviously, it's good to be white. No need to beat this point into the ground; our current approach to education is simply not getting the job done when it comes to closing the achievement gap between white kids and kids of color. Something needs to be done besides pumping more dollars into programs that clearly aren't getting the job done. There's an urgency here, that will not be satisfied by another five-year plan.

Second, the current education system is contributing, not ameliorating, the division of America into a have and have-not society. If at least some college is required to secure a decent-paying job in today's job market, and only 33 percent of Minnesota high school graduates (about 28 percent of all children that attend high school) meet the requirements for college enrollment, then perhaps we have a problem.

And the solution is not more money for college scholarship programs. As the Manhattan study indicates, students are not (in large numbers) failing to attend college for economic reasons. They simply haven't been prepared by the public education system to do so.