26 July 2005

High School Graduation Rates

Over the next few months I want to look at our education system. Let's begin with some statistics.

Let's compare the top ten and bottom ten states (including the District of Columbia) in the United States by U.S. public high school graduation rates for 2001-2002, followed by pupil per teacher ratios and expenditures per pupil in 2002, % black and % Hispanic in 2002) (per the World Almanac 2005).

1. New Jersey 89.8% (12.8; $11,793; 15.5%; 14.2%)
2. North Dakota 83.7% (12.9; $6,709; 0.8%; 1.3%)
3. Iowa 82.9% (13.9; $7,338; 2.2%; 3.1%)
4. Utah 82.5% (21.8; $4,899; 0.9%; 9.7%)
5. Minnesota 82.3% (16.0; $7,736; 3.8%; 3.2%)
6. Nebraska 80.0% (13.6; $7,741; 4.2%; 6.0%)
7. Wyoming 72.7% (13.0; $8,645; 0.9%; 6.7%)
8. Vermont 78.6% (11.7; $9,806; 0.6%; 0.9%)
9. South Dakota 77.8% (13.8; $6,424; 0.8%; 1.5%)
10. Montana 77.3% (14.5; $7,062; 0.4%; 2.1%)
31. Colorado 70.0% (16.6; $6,941; 4.1%; 18.2%)

United States 68.5% (15.9; $7,731; 12.7%; 13.4%)
42. New Mexico 61.5% (15.1; $6,882; 2.2%; 42.9%)
43. Alaska 60.7% (16.6; $9,565; 3.7%; 4.4%)
44. North Carolina 60.6% (15.2; $6,501; 21.8%; 5.3%)
45. Louisiana 59.2% (14.6; $6,567, 32.9%; 2.6%)
46. Mississippi 59.1% (15.6; $5,354; 36.8%; 1.5%)
47. Alabama 57.2% (15.7; $6,029; 26.3%; 1.9%)
48. Tennessee 56.7% (15.8; $5,959; 16.6%; 2.4%)
49. Florida 55.7% (18.4; $6,213; 15.8%; 18.1%)
50. Georgia 53.6% (15.6; $7,380; 28.8%; 6.0%)
51. South Carolina 49.2% (14.9; $7,017; 29.9%; 2.7%)

The spread from best to worst is huge, forty percentage points. Put another way, South Carolina has five times as many high school dropouts per capita as New Jersey.

Geography seems to yield patterns more easily than numbers.

Diverse New Jersey has the highest graduation rate in the nation. Homogeneous Alaska is near the bottom. Graduation rates in the crowded schools of Utah are high. Graduation rates in the relatively uncrowded schools of Louisiana are low. Still class sizes in states with high graduation rates are signficiantly lower than those with low graduation rates in most cases.

In contrast, it is quite obvious that every single state below the Mason-Dixon line and East of the Mississippi River (as well as Louisiana, which is just on the other side of the Mississippi River and contiguous) is among the bottom eight states in high school graduation rates. Likewise, eight of the top ten states form a geographic block in the North central United States. Still, one of the best, Utah, and one of the worst, New Mexico, actually border each other. Likewise, the very best, New Jersey, is not far along the Eastern seaboard from the worst, South Carolina.

The regional demographics are hard explain significantly by race either. Nationally (according to the Census Bureau), 83.8% of whites age 25-29 are high school graduates, 78.7% of blacks age 25-29 are high school graduates, and 57.0% of Hispanics age 25-29 are high school graduates -- although there are certainly many examples of huge disparities in graduation rates and high school performance at some high schools.

Demographics and geography aren't destiny when it comes to graduation rates. Arkansas comes in at an unexpectedly high 17th in graduation rates. The District of Columbia, which is essentially all urban inner city, comes in a respectable 29th place for high school graduation rates. Delaware, which is in many respects similar to New Jersey, and New York State, come in at 41st and 40th respectively.

It is also worth questioning whether attending high school is really the be and end all that it is made out to be. About 87% of Americans have some high school education, second in the world only to the Czech Republic, which has an 88% some high school attendance rate. Rates are far lower in many countries which we would consider advanced industrialized countries:

* Spain 41%
* Italy 44%
* Luxembourg 57%
* Iceland 59%
* Ireland 60%
* Australia 61%
* Belgium 61%
* United Kingdom 64%
* France 65%
* Netherlands 66%
* South Korea 71%
* Sweden 82%
* Germany 83%
* Canada 83%
* Japan 84%

Are graduation rate differences matters of academic performance, or do they simply reflect a greater or lesser emphasis on obtaining educational credentials? Within the context of the American political-economy (i.e. between states), it is hard to doubt that differing high school graduation rates mean something, but international comparisons seem to show that outside of the context of a particular nation's political economy, it doesn't have to mean much.


Anonymous said...

Is it actually true that South Korea has a lower graduation rate than Canada by 12% !!!
Wow that is amazing!!!
This can't be true!!!
Do you think that the graduation rate could change drastically over the next two years?

Signed, Puzzled

Anonymous said...

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It is great for doing projects on!!!
I thank the people who contributed and help make this site!!!!

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

A story from USA Today notes that the numbers above don't tell the whole story. Some countries, like South Korea, has seen dramatic increases in high school graduation rates, so older people drag down the adult graduation rate average. In the U.S., in contrast, graduation rates are stagnant or even falling.

Anonymous said...

graduation rates do change troughout the years but you did not show what year these statistics are based on so it would really help readers like me working on a project if you would clarify whether its say 2006 or a prediction of 2020. thanx