Karen Bouffard, Detroit News, February 25, 2008
Just 31.9 percent of Detroit students graduate in four years, according to the first major study in Michigan conducted using a method now mandated by the federal government.
The study, by the Education Policy Center at Michigan State University, looked at how many ninth-graders in Detroit and the state as a whole left high school with diplomas after four years. It portends what may happen in August, when Michigan releases the graduation rate for the class of 2007, which will be calculated for the first time using the same formula used by MSU researchers.
Detroit Public Schools officials would not comment on the study, which has not yet been published, but School Board President Carla Scott said she doesn’t believe the results, which echo the findings of an Education Week study released in June. That study found fewer than a quarter of ninth-graders who entered Detroit Public Schools in 1999 graduated four years later.
According to the state Department of Education, the district’s graduation rate for the same time frame was 66.8 percent.
Statewide, the new study found the graduation rate in 2006—72.9 percent—was significantly lower than the state Department of Education’s 85.7 percent graduation rate for the class of 2006, the last year for which data is available.
Sharif Shakrani, director of the Education Policy Center at MSU and the author of the study, said researchers looked at the total number of freshmen in Detroit Public Schools in fall 2002 and then in each subsequent year through June 2006.
They took into account the number who moved to charter schools or to other districts in the state, where records were available.
The study found an even lower graduation rate for boys enrolled in Detroit Public Schools: just 25 percent, compared with 39 percent of girls—a discrepancy that mirrors national trends.
Jack Jennings, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Center on Education Policy, a nonprofit research and advocacy group, said large urban areas across the country have reported “shockingly low” graduation rates when calculated with the method used by MSU researchers. The counting method, called cohort, is required under No Child Left Behind.
“What you’re seeing in Detroit is the same type of thing you’re seeing in Chicago, (Los Angeles), Houston and all big cities,” Jennings said. “If the general finding is that the graduation rate in inner city schools isn’t very high, they’re correct—and it’s something to be legitimately concerned about. It’s a warning sign that maybe the situation is worse than we thought, and maybe we should do something about it.”
“This will be the first year we look at the number who enter as freshmen, and the number who graduate four years later,” Fritz said [Leslee Fritz, spokeswoman for the state Budget Office, Center for Educational Performance Initiatives]. “Certainly, we’ve said that the expectation is that when you take that wider four-year view a number of districts will show a lower rate, and that the statewide graduation will go down as a result.”
Still, MSU’s Shakrani believes the data from his study is the most accurate to date for quantifying the scope of the dropout problem in Detroit and statewide.
Shakrani’s study found that students are most likely to graduate once they start their senior year. Students have the highest likelihood of dropping out between ninth and 10th grade.