High school graduation gap more than racial

April 19, 2006|By GREGORY KANE

Anew Manhattan Institute study released today has the title "Leaving Boys Behind: Public High School Graduation Rates."

The study's authors have come up with statistics that leave you pondering whether boys are slackers or whether girls have simply picked up the education ball and run with it, yelling "Goodbye fools!" to the boys.

White females had the highest graduation rate nationwide for the school year that ended in 2003, at 79 percent, according to the study. White males had the second highest rate of graduation at 74 percent, followed by Asian females at 73 percent and Asian males at 70 percent. Overall for 2003, the graduation rate was 72 percent for girls and 65 percent for boys.

Hispanic females led their male counterparts by 58 percent to 49 percent. Black females had a 59 percent graduation rate and black males had the lowest rate: 48 percent, the study shows.

The study's authors, Jay P. Greene and Marcus A. Winters, are scholars at the Manhattan Institute, which some refer to as a "conservative think tank." Greene and Winters concluded that "far fewer students graduate from high school than [was] previously believed, and that there is a large gender gap in the graduation rate in each racial category." Then, with considerable understatement, the authors note "that there is a serious graduation problem that the nation needs to address."

Convinced that official school graduation rates were misleading, Greene and Winters compiled graduation data from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. They did the same for the 100 largest school districts in the country by tracking school populations from the ninth grade through the 12th.

Baltimore ranked 91st with an overall graduation rate of 48 percent in 2003. According to the study, black females in Baltimore graduated at a rate higher than white females, at 58 percent to 43 percent. And for all the talk about how black males don't finish high school in Baltimore, the study says both black males and white males had a 39 percent graduation rate in 2003.

Well, it's nice to know we're underserving all races equally.

Baltimore was one of only four districts where black females graduated at a higher rate than white females. One was in Cumberland County, N.C., which was 53rd and had an overall graduation rate of 63 percent. The other two were the school districts of Cleveland, Ohio (54 percent for black females to 48 percent for white females), and Detroit (51 percent for black females to 38 percent for white females). Cleveland and Detroit bore the dubious distinction of having a lower overall graduation rate than Baltimore in 2003: 45 percent and 42 percent, respectively.

Thank heavens no one has blamed "black institutional racism" in Baltimore, Detroit or Cleveland for the disparity in the black female/white female graduation rates.

There no doubt will be some folks around here who will dispute the Manhattan Institute scholars' figures for Baltimore.

If the Web site mdreport card.org is your source of information, then the graduation rate for Baltimore was 54 percent in 2003. The Web site also shows that the graduation rate for black females was 62 percent for that year, with white females graduating at a 52 percent rate. White males graduated at a 49 percent rate and black males at 45 percent rate.

Greene, who is head of the department of education reform at the University of Arkansas and a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, readily admitted that the graduation rates local districts give may be higher than his, for two reasons.

"There are two problems with official graduation rates," Greene said, "problems with definition and problems with data." Local school districts might include as graduates students who get GEDs, Greene said. He doesn't.

"GED recipients, properly speaking, are not graduates of the system," said Greene, who compared districts that include them in statistics to doctors who claim they cured patients who left their care to be treated by another doctor.

"It's good people get GEDs," Greene said, "but we shouldn't say it's the same thing as getting a regular diploma."

Greene said problems with data arise because "schools have a very hard time distinguishing students who transfer from a school from students who drop out. Lots of students are categorized as transfers who are, in fact, dropouts." While conceding that when he and Winters compute a graduation rate that the figure will be an estimate, Greene assures readers of the study that "it's an estimate that's not going to be very far off."

Overall, 72 percent of girls graduated from high school in 2003 and 65 percent of males did, according to the Greene and Winters study. As indicated, the gender disparity is even greater among blacks and Hispanics.

But "Leaving Boys Behind" reveals that Howard County, one of the nation's most affluent counties, had the country's highest graduation rate for black males in 2003: 72 percent. (The mdreport card.org figure is 86 percent.) Doesn't that indicate that the problem with graduation rates, academic achievement and drop-out rates is as much about class as race?

"There's no doubt that both race and class are factors," Greene said. "All of the same factors that contribute to higher and lower test scores contribute to higher or lower graduation rates. These are basically different indicators of the same thing. That being said, it's important to know that demography is not fate."


Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.