New standards for calculating graduation rates, prompted by No Child Left Behind mandates, require states to use cohort comparisons when estimating graduation rates. Independent analyses of graduation rates, such as The Schott 50 State Report on Public Education and Black Males (Jackson, 2010), estimates graduation rates by dividing the number of students receiving diplomas by the number of students beginning high school four years earlier.
This method yields a national graduation rate of 47 percent for Black males and 78 percent for White males. According to the American Community Survey (ACS), in the U.S., 80 percent of Black males have completed high school or obtained a GED (Ruggles, et al., 2009). Forty-five percent of Black males have attempted college, and 16 percent of Black males have completed college (Ruggles, et al., 2009).
The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) track dropout rates for the U.S. population using the Current Population Survey (CPS) (Chapman, Laird, & KewalRamani, 2010). The "event dropout" rate refers to the percentage of 15 through 24-year-olds in the United States who withdrew from grades 10–12 within the last 12-month period.
The NCES estimates the current event dropout rates for black students to be 6.4 percent, compared to 2.3 for white students. NCES uses the CPS to provide an estimate of the "status" dropout by surveying the proportion of the population who are between the ages of 16 and 24, are not enrolled in school, and who have not earn a high school diploma or graduate equivalent. Current "status dropout" rate for black males is 8.7 percent, compared to 5.4 percent for White males and 19.9 percent for Hispanic males (Chapman, et al., 2010).
There are discrepancies between the graduation rate, dropout rate, and census estimates. When compared to census estimates, the graduation rate appears to overestimate failure, and the dropout rate seems to underestimate failure.
However, the often-stated notion that more than half of black males dropout, or do not graduate, is not true. From the CPS annual School Enrollment Survey, we can estimate that among the half not graduating with their cohort, 5.8 percent get a GED (Bureau of the Census for the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2009). Using the ACS, we can estimate that approximately 12 percent of Black males are graduating late (Ruggles, et al., 2009). Therefore, if we use the census estimate of non-completion for Black males (20 percent), we can account for about 38 percent of the 53 percent who are not graduating with their cohort. The remaining 15 percent is likely due to random error, including students transferring to schools outside of their district.
None of this information should be construed to minimize the importance of our very important collective action to promote Black male achievement. Putting this information in perspective, we should acknowledge that completion rates for black males continue to lag behind white males, and a nation that offers public education should have near 100% completion for all students.
In addition, the high percentage of black males not finishing with their cohort speaks to a problem with the national educational system, even if they go on to receive a GED or graduate from another school. However, statements like, "only 50% of black males will graduate from high school," are misleading, and could lead to pessimism among educators and stereotype threat among black males.
Let us continue to promote a positive agenda to advance academic success among black males.
Bureau of the Census for the Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2009). Current Population Survey: School Enrollment and Internet Use Supplement [machine-readable data file]. In Bureau of the Census [producer and distributor] (Ed.). Washington, DC.
Chapman, C., Laird, J., & KewalRamani, A. (2010). Trends in High School Dropoutand Completion Rates inthe United States: 1972–2008. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education.
Jackson, J. H. (2010). Yes We Can: The Schott 50 State Report on Public Education and Black Males. Cambridge, MA: The Schott Foundation for Public Education.
Ruggles, S., Sobek, M., Alexander, T., Fitch, C. A., Goeken, R., Hall, P. K., et al. (2009). Integrated Public Use Microdata Series: Version 4.0 [Machine-readable database]. In Minnesota Population Center (Ed.). Minneapolis, MN: Minnesota Population Center.