I told a reporter once, when we were discussing this topic; that whoever finds and reports the “real” graduation rate for ________ school district, should automatically earn a Pulitzer!
Ok Mike, not to make excuses for Chicago (“Chicago Public Schools have been mislabeling dropouts, getting them off the books and out of the graduation rate. CPS now says it will stop the practice…”– NPR); but misleading (as in false), purposely obscure and confusing graduation rates, is a national school district: Standard Operating Procedure. And that would include the little known middle school dropout rate, because these students are not usually counted, if they are counted at all, until their cohort reaches the 12th grade. And, as bad as these graduation rates may appear, they are actually much, much worse! The reason school districts are very eager and adept at this art of deception; is the belief that journalist and politicians will just not invest the time and money in finding out the real graduation rate (they might actually be forced to do something about it!).
Also, even though students of poverty, and students of color are the most adversely affected by these huge (real) dropout rates, I think that even the general tax-paying public, finding out the real high school dropout rate, might be shocked and angered into demanding demonstrative change; if not for matters of morality, at least for that fact that a huge amount of their money is being wasted.
But, (sorry, I know I never make these things simple) the misleading dropout rate is only one-third of the graduation rate problem. A school district can offer multiple standards for gradation from: “I am on my way to college”; “I am prepared for some type of career and meaningful employment”; to the “digestive system” student: “I am just passing through to graduation by meeting middle school standards” (you know I had to throw in a little science!)
Further, the “fake” graduation rate would be reduced even more if students were honestly forced to meet true high school (any high school in America) standards. School districts maintain elaborate (and costly) systems of disingenuous “credit recovery” programs; where high school students can earn credits for classes they failed by attending some iteration (summer, afternoon, evening, weekends, etc.) of these programs; and in some cases whole schools have this approach as their school philosophy and procedures. The criteria for passing these classes: (1) the student shows up, and (2) the student has a pulse.
It helps that the students most adversely affected by this travesty, are the children of parents and communities that are the least organized politically to put a stop to this shameful system that is destroying their children. That is why in places like Chicago, they can close a historical percentage of schools, and then be on the verge of bankruptcy! How does this happen? There is just no one Black or White who knows what questions to ask (or they do, and are not asking them!); or, even know if any questions should be raised at all.
But the good news on US graduation rates (I wanted to end on an upbeat tone); is that colleges and business employers, offer public schools a subsidy parachute, by providing high school “graduates” with the skills, and content knowledge that many of them should have learned in high school; and of course, the criminal-social service industry is always ready to pick up the rest of those dream denied young dropouts.