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Volume 12, Number 3
May/June 1996

Kidding Ourselves About School Dropout Rates


The U.S. Department of Education and various commentators maintain that school dropout rates have been going down. In fact, there is persuasive evidence that, in some settings at least, dropout rates are higher than is generally acknowledged and that they are going up, not down.

The 1995 edition of the Digest of Educational Statistics reported that 10.5 percent of 16-to-24-year-olds are high school dropouts, defined as persons who are neither high school graduates nor enrolled in school. Among blacks, the figure for this age group is slightly higher-12.6 percent. This would be a significant improvement over 20 years ago, when 14.3 percent of 16-to-24-year-olds, and 21 percent of blacks in that age group, were dropouts.

The dropout rate is highest in cities, but urban districts also report declining rates. In 1994, the Council of the Great City Schools (CGCS) reported that annual dropout rates in the central cities had declined over a two-year period from 5.7 percent to 4.9 percent. Later that year, CGCS reported that 90 percent of its members had declining dropout rates.

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For Further Information

For Further Information

Kids Count Data Book: State Profiles of Child Well-Being. Baltimore, MD: Annie E. Casey Foundation, 1994.

National Urban Education Goals: 1992-1993 Indicators Report. Washington, D.C.: Council of the Great City Schools, 1994.

M. LeCompte and S. Goebel. "Can Bad Data Produce Good Program Planning? An Analysis of Record-Keeping on School Dropouts." Education and Urban Society 19 (1987): 250-268.

P. Williams. Standardizing School Dropout Measures. New Brunswick, NJ: Center for Policy Research in Education, Research Report Series RR-003, 1987.