There are about 1,700 regular or vocational high schools nationwide that fit that description, according to an analysis of Education Department data conducted by Johns Hopkins for The Associated Press. That's 12 percent of all such schools, no more than a decade ago but no less, either...As part of the re-authorization of NCLB, Congress is considering requireing high schools to report data on graduation rates by race and other subgroups as well as develop data systems and consitent processes to track graduation rates.
The highest concentration of dropout factories is in large cities or high-poverty rural areas in the South and Southwest. Most have high proportions of minority students. These schools are tougher to turn around, because their students face challenges well beyond the academic ones the need to work as well as go to school, for example, or a need for social services.
This is all well and good. Having hard data to back up hunches of people like me is helpful--so far as it goes. Data doesn't solve problems, though.
The AP report notes that for many of the dropout factories (a pejorative term if there ever was one) they struggle with conditions that most people would say do not lend themselves to successful high school careers. But what can be done?
Here is where NCLB may actually be helping matters, but the law is so new that we haven't seen the echo effects yet. For students who have spent their entire school careers operating under NCLB the emphasis on basic reading and math skills will no doubt improve their academic skills, by osmosis if nothing else, making a high school career more likely to find success. Only students who were in 7th or 8th grade when NCLB's regime started have had made it through to high school, and we don't know what their graduation rates are, nor will we for the NCLB generate for another seven (7) years!
The AP study looked at data for 2004-2006, when no NCLB kids were in high school. Simply put, we don't know what the impact, if any, of NCLB will have on graduation rates for 2007 and beyond, the earliest cohort of kids to be exposed to NCLB's testing regime.
Next, we need to look a little deeper in to the numbers. Who is dropping out is just as important as a raw number of how many. Equally important is why. The AP story talks to a couple of GED students from DC, but you can't extrapolate much from a couple of anecdotes. Is it economics, is it crime and punishment, is it environmental, is it familial or what? The simple thing is that we don't know and that would be a great study to read if we could get a systematic method of contacting and asking high school dropouts such questions.
Finally, we need to look at the people who do graduate from these dropout factories. The school may have less than a 60% graduation rate, but it is greater than zero. So why do some kids graduate and others don't. That too would be a much more interesting study.
So dropout factories exist, this much we know. But frankly, it is not news and it doesn't really mean anything. The real meaning is the stories and the data behind those who do drop out and those who don't. The AP story is easy news, but not earthshattering.