US Dropout Rates Overstated And Misrepresented

US Dropout Rates Overstated And Misrepresented

By Janks Morton | June 26, 2012

I have been challenged numerous times over the past weeks in discussing the Black Male Dropout rate of 9.5% in 20101 as investigated in my latest film “HOODWINKED”.  Recently at rooftop affair in New York, several television producers cited specifically an ad campaign that I am oh too familiar with. A series of PSA’s with the tagline: “every 26 seconds in the U.S., a high School student drops out.” was summarily the retort and rebuff of the night in an attempt to derail claims of the film.

The first time I saw the PSA for the campaign was during the 2012 NBA All-Star game. LeBron James was featured in the commercial and reiterates that “every 26 seconds a kid drops out of High School.”  I think there is still a pizza stain on my TV from my initial response. Why such an exacerbated reaction to what most assume and have adopted as the narrative about the “Dropout Crisis in America?” you may ask. Two fold is my answer, which I will explain seriatim.

First the commercial had an African-American Male sitting in a bed (during the middle of the day) falling through his mattress into a series shadowy settings, into the predictable, deleterious and “dark” outcomes faced by those who have chosen to leave high school prematurely. The problem I have with this narrative is that the societal construct around dropouts have made young Black Males the poster boys of this “Crisis”.

A quick search of the Department of Education: National Center for Education High School Dropout and Completion rates reveal the following (racial) state of dropouts and the face (if any) that should be highlighted in these types of PSA’s, is  definitely not young Black Males.

From the NCES Trends in High School Dropouts and Completion Rates: (

Of the 373,000 High School Dropouts in 2009 (Event Dropout – started 2009/absent 2010)
160,000 were White (Non-Hispanic)
114,000 were Hispanic
77,000   were Black
Of the 3,030,000 people between 16-24 without a High School Diploma or GED (Status Dropouts/Total U.S. Dropouts)
1,188,000 were White (Non-Hispanic)
1,199,000 were Hispanic
508,000 were Black
in 2006, 2007 and 2008 Black Females had a higher percent of total dropouts than Black Males

The follow up question when I present the numbers usually goes like “well aren’t African American Males disproportionately dropping out as compared to other ethnicities (or Black Males have the highest incidence of dropping out.) And while that lens gives me great pause and nocturnal reflux by percentages from the DOE:

Of the 373,000 High School Dropouts in 2009 (Event Dropout – started 2008/absent 2009)
2.4% of all Whites Dropped in 2009
5.8% of all Hispanics Dropped in 2009
4.8% of all Blacks  Dropped in 2009

From my research, there is an absolute disconnect between what the data states and the imagery and information we receive from special interests and media around Black Male Achievement. Of particular concern; with the advocacy of my films being “the castigation of Black Identity”, I hope you can appreciate my reservation about how negative imagery and misinformation has consequential effects on the self-perception of African Americans. The devaluation of status coupled with misperceptions of normative and expectant achievements for young Black Males lowers the bar and blurs the lens on a community that has long been burdened by stereotypes, misrepresentations and inaccurate social malignment.

Second, expanding on the point of misrepresentations, I have a larger concern around the statistical claims in the 26 second PSA underwritten by State Farm and researched by The Alliance for Excellent Education (AEE). A cursory look into the AEE website finds a statement that “Every year, more than 1 million students—that’s 7,000 every school day—do not graduate from high school on time.”

Did You catch that last line? THEY DON’T GRADUATE ON TIME: So if they do not graduate on time, one should assume they are dropping out of high school, correct? Absolutely not. Herein lies the quandary and the subtle innuendo that has distorted the public perception and over dramatized the national dropout discussion. From the AEE owns methodology they state “ find the estimated number of students who did not graduate with the rest of their class. For the purpose of this analysis, the Alliance assumed these students to be dropouts from the Class of 2010” Remember the old adage about assuming…right?

Well I will leave you some closing bullet points of the AEE analysis of this “crisis” for you to research, digest and come to your own conclusions about the current state of High School Completions and Dropouts. Maybe next year when can curtail their attempt to interrupt my NBA all-Star game with another image distorting and data skewing PSA.

As reported by the Department of Education: National Center for Education Statistics ~ There is no data to support a claim that 1.3 million (AEE) students dropped out of High School in the calendar year 2010
The AEE took a longitudinal look at the four years of attendance for the class of 2010, found that 1.3 million did not graduate on time, assumed they were dropouts, and then left the analysis open for misinterpretation.
How the messaging is abbreviated, misinterpreted and finally misreported goes like this;
1.3 million students did not graduate in four years or with their class
1.3 million missing in the class of 2010
1.3 million in dropouts in 2010 (error)
that equals 7,000 dropouts per school day
that equals 1 dropout every 26 seconds

What the Dropout assumption in the AEE findings does not consider and leads to multiple errors in its conclusion are as follows:
Metropolitan Statistical Area and interstate  mobility of students between 9th and 12 (students moving from one area to another during the four year period counts against graduation rates of the baseline school)
Grade Repetition Rates (students having to repeat a grade during the four year period counts against graduation rates).

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