The True Dropout Rate: 27%

City school officials decided to do the real math on the number of kids dropping out of high school, and set a new goal for keeping them there.

New Haven’s Class of 2008 had a dropout rate of 27.4 percent—not 15.7 percent, as previously reported—school officials announced at Monday’s Board of Education meeting.

Historically, the city has relied on a flawed calculation that underrepresented the number of students who drop out of school. The method was the standard set by the state. It took all the kids who started 9th grade (minus those who transferred out) and measured whether they dropped out by the end of 12th grade. It didn’t count kids who joined the district after 9th grade, so it missed a lot of kids. 

Using that method, the state reported that New Haven’s Class of 2008 had a 15.7 percent dropout rate.

Recognizing the flaws in that old counting system, the state is revising its dropout formula. It has taken a break from reporting dropout data while it builds a new system that will track students through high school.

Meanwhile, New Haven has taken its own swing at figuring out its dropout rate as part of a citywide school reform campaign.

Melissa Bailey PhotoSchool reform czar Garth Harries (at left in photo above) said that the new calculation is meant to be “more intuitive” than the method used in the past.

The new method starts with the number of kids in 9th grade on Oct. 1. Students who join the district along the way are added to the group. Students who transfer out-of-district or out-of-state are not counted.

Students who transfer to adult education and get GEDs are counted as dropouts.

Here are the numbers Harries laid out for the Class of 2008.

A total of 1,514 students were enrolled in the district as freshmen on Oct. 1, 2004. Another 661 joined their class in the next four years. Another 169 transferred to adult education to get a diploma; 550 more transferred out for other reasons.

That leaves 1,554 students in the so-called “cohort.”

After four years, where were they?

• 970 had graduated from high school (62.4 percent).
• 158 were still enrolled in high school (10.2 percent).
• 49 had “discontinued education.
• 183 had “unknown” whereabouts.
• 194 left to get a GED.

The people in the last three categories were all counted as dropouts.

That leaves the dropout rate at 27.4 percent, according to the numbers Harries provided.

Harries also gave a breakdown comparing students in magnet schools, comprehensive high schools and other programs.

Magnet school students showed a much higher graduation rate: 83.1 percent, compared to 53.6 percent for comprehensive high schools. The respective dropout rates were 11.5 percent and 36.3 percent.

Harries said he also has school-by-school data but is not yet ready to release it.

The district crunched the numbers in order to move forward with goal-setting for the school reform drive.

Since he launched the reform effort, Mayor John DeStefano has said he aims to “cut the dropout rate in half” over the course of five years, starting this fall. Before Monday, he never quantified that goal.

Based on the new numbers, Harries announced a new goal: Cut the dropout rate to 13.5 percent in the next five years. (That’s half of 27 percent.)

Graduating from high school has a direct correlation to health, wealth and having a job later in life. To help keep kids in school, the district plans to develop “credit remediation programs,” and to “strengthen ‘stay-in-school’ PR and student-to-student campaigns.”

The announcement came as part of a larger presentation setting broad goals for the school reform drive, including how the district aims to close the achievement gap in five years.

Click here, here and here to read the presentation, which is still in draft form.

The draft was based on work done with the city’s reform committee, which includes teachers, administrators and parents. Teachers union President Dave Cicarella said he is on board with the goals.

Harries said the new formula for calculating the dropout rate is based on the National Governors Association’s “Compact Rate,” a four-year graduation rate. That’s what the state’s method will be based on, Harries said.

The state has yet to produce district-level data using its new dropout formula. Starting with the Class of 2009, the state will use unique identifiers to track students from 9th to graduation.

In March, the state released preliminary statewide data using the new counting method. State Education Commissioner Mark K. McQuillan reported a 79.3 percent graduation rate statewide, with “alarming” disparities between white students and their black and Hispanic counterparts.

Statewide, only 58.1 percent of Hispanics and 66.2 percent of African-Americans graduated high school in four years, according to the report.

College Success

Harries also gave some new numbers showing for the first time how many high school seniors go on to college.

Of the graduating class of 2008, 50 percent were enrolled in college two years after graduation. The district’s goal is to boost that number to 75 percent in five years.

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posted by: anon on September 14, 2010  10:53am

This rate doesn’t make a whole lot of sense because it doesn’t count the following groups.

“Another 169 transferred to adult education to get a diploma; 550 more transferred out for other reasons.”

How many of the ones who transferred to “adult education” actually graduated?

What happened to the 550 more who transferred out for “other reasons”? What were the “other reasons”?

Instead of using these spurious figures, why not use the Cumulative Promotion Index, used by Education Week, instead? Neither are perfect but at least the CPI is simple and doesn’t cover up what is really happening.

posted by: Observer on September 14, 2010  12:06pm

Finally some truth begins to come out and we can stop these annual lies! As for the high number of graduates going on to college, just be mindful that a good number of them end up in community college (and there is nothing wrong with that) but they end up stuck in developmental education becuase they are not ready for college-level work.  That’s the biggest failure of Mayo and his crew.

posted by: steve on September 14, 2010  8:33pm

we spent how much money building new schools for what??? it seems nothing improves, and now 1 out of 4 don’t graduate. last week i read new haven has more schools and teachers than any similarly sized city…yeesh! where is the accountability?

posted by: FIX THE SCHOOLS on September 14, 2010  9:20pm

Give them credit for putting the truth out there. 

But is it enough to inspire them to accelerate the pace of reform?

posted by: Doyens on September 14, 2010  9:39pm

While it is refreshing to see a new openness to determine the real drop out rate, but my sense is that these numbers are still suspect. It is unclear to me why it takes the state so long to put the real formula together. It’s just not that hard. It ought to be simple, transparent and easily understood. All these footnotes that prop up the final number only raise suspicions that once again, we are being mislead.

posted by: rocket on September 15, 2010  3:41am

The flawed calculations were based on State formulas, so the same calculation was used all over the state. Everyone’s numbers are going to look worse, but it is a more accurate assessment. Sitting back and saying you didn’t get your money’s worth from school reform is silly.

posted by: anon on September 15, 2010  5:41am

Observer, of the students who do go to college, you are correct that very few end up graduating.  Our city and state college systems seem very reluctant to release that type of information, because it is potentially embarrassing, even though most other cities have acknowledged their problems in public.

Although we’re just looking at the high school diploma achievement rate here, even the city’s new “official” figure doesn’t seem to give an accurate picture of the city’s graduation rate. 

What happened to the 169 students who “transferred” out to adult education before they graduated? What about the 550 who left for “other” reasons?

posted by: anon on September 15, 2010  7:12am

“Pushed”, a film by Youth Rights Media about the “real” drop out rate:

posted by: Sharon O'Brady on September 15, 2010  8:03am

This will translate in to a 27% unemployment rate in 10 years. These kids will be so unskilled they will be unemployable. Crime will skyrocket.

John DeStefano, you have a lot to answer for. How many billions were spent on schools.

posted by: anon on September 15, 2010  8:43am

Sharon, the unemployment rate among black men is already close to 50% in many urban areas.  If these trends continue, it will just get worse.  27% is being very optimistic (and that’s not even the “real” dropout rate).

Unfortunately, the city spends most of its money on administration and technical services, and not enough on creating safe, attractive communities that actually encourage families and property owners to invest here, live here, and create jobs here in the long term. 

We have beautiful schools and hundreds of administrative staff making $100-$300K in combined salary and benefits, but then our Aldermen go around condemning plans to install a new sidewalk in a neighborhood that has none, or proposing that the city charge higher fees for people to play soccer in their neighborhood park. 

Similarly, we have a great police force, but almost all of the money spent on it leaves the city because that’s where all the officers actually live (and therefore, spend most of their time).

People used to personally know the officers walking by on their block every hour or two, and nowadays their interaction with public safety consists of seeing a police car flying by at high speeds (and sometimes, crash into a resident) every so often.

posted by: William Kurtz on September 15, 2010  9:07am

There is some confusion about whether the 169 who “transferred to adult education to get a diploma” are among the 194 who “left to get a GED”.  If so, they would be accounted for as part of the total number of students counted as having dropped out.  Presumably, the “other reasons” for why 550 students left school included moves out of district and transfers to private schools.  I don’t think reporting that more than a quarter of the freshman class dropped out is a very effective cover-up. 

Mr. Harries has done a good job of taking a more honest look at the numbers.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on September 15, 2010  10:24am

We talk about the public schools.How about the charter schools.

posted by: chuck on September 16, 2010  4:50am

Actually, look at the numbers.  Actually, 48% of the students who enter New Haven public high schools have not graduated after 4 years!  Good thing we have new buildings.  Look at the stats for Catholic Schools and you’ll see where you should send your kids.  Catholic Schools concentrate on educating the students who want to be educated.  Public schools are day care.  Look at the graduation rates.  Facts.

posted by: 4sure on September 16, 2010  7:27am

Why would anyone want to enroll their children here with these statistics? This is why many City Employees do not live here?
The bigger question is how many graduated from college? How many can complete a job application? How many know how to speak or dress at an interview?
Forget the NEW SCHOOL BUILDINGS how about revamping the BOE.
It starts with MAYO. Why is he receiving 200,000 plus for failing school system?

posted by: William Kurtz on September 16, 2010  7:29am

“Catholic Schools concentrate on educating the students who want to be educated.”

Well, therein lies a big part of the problem, doesn’t it?  Catholic schools, charter schools, high-cost “independent schools”, and even state vo-tech schools have options about which students they accept.  Poor-performing students (academically or socially) can be (and are) removed, more or less at will.

posted by: FIX THE SCHOOLS on September 16, 2010  8:54am

Kurtz - I disagree with your inference that charter schools cream students.  Data on the level of performance of incoming students shows a disportionate percentage of students who lag both the state and even the city averages.  New Havens charters admit children who are very much struggling academically.

But for the sake of argument, let’s for a moment accept your premise that alternative schools serve a higher percentage of students who are otherwise motivated to learn.

1.  Why were these motivated students NOT performing in the district-run schools before they went to charters or parochials?  In other words, why did their motivation suddenly go up once they entered an alternative environment?

2.  Why should some “motivated” urban public school students not be granted access to excellent schools? 

3.  Why should our state only allow suburban, mainly white, affluent students to attend high performing public schools?

posted by: 7th Grader on September 23, 2010  3:08pm

I Go To A School In New-haven And It Doesn’t Really Surprise Me That More And More People Drop Out Because People Don’t Even Show Up To School Everyday Here So Why Would They Go And Stay At School When They Don’t Have To? I Dont like To Go To School Because I Dont Like To Wake Up Early In The Morning But I Wont Drop Out Of School Because Of That Dumb Reason.

posted by: 6th Grader on September 23, 2010  3:13pm

When I grow up, I want to be a chemist and I know that in order to do that, I have to stay in school. It makes me sad that some kids drop out because they want to make their own life at an early age and it makes me mad that they want to drop out. I think that in order to stop people from dropping out, we should tell them what would happen to them if they drop out: you’re more likely to go on the streets, you’re going to end up asking people for money, and you’re not going to be able to buy the things you need.

posted by: 6th Grader on September 23, 2010  3:18pm

I think people should stay in school because they might have a baby.But that means you might be poor but you might break up with your girl and live in your parents house for the rest of your life.You might crush your dreams or live on the streets