Civic Report
No.
48 April 2006
Leaving Boys Behind:
Public High School Graduation Rates
by
Jay P. Greene and Marcus
A. Winters
Executive Summary
This study uses a widely respected method to
calculate public high school graduation rates
for the nation, for each state, and for the 100
largest school districts in the United States.
We calculate graduation rates overall, by race,
and by gender, using the most recent available
data (the class of 2003).
Among our key findings:
 The overall national public high school
graduation rate for the class of 2003 was 70 percent.
 There is a wide disparity in the public
high school graduation rates of white and minority
students.
 Nationally, the graduation rate for white students
was 78 percent, compared with 72 percent for Asian
students, 55 percent for AfricanAmerican students,
and 53 percent for Hispanic students.
 Female students graduate high school at
a higher rate than male students. Nationally,
72 percent of female students graduated, compared with 65 percent
of male students.
 The gender gap in graduation rates is particularly
large for minority students. Nationally, about
5 percentage points fewer white male students and
3 percentage points fewer Asian male students
graduate than their respective female students. While 59
percent of AfricanAmerican females graduated,
only 48 percent of AfricanAmerican males earned
a diploma (a difference of 11 percentage points).
Further, the graduation rate was 58 percent for
Hispanic females, compared with 49 percent for
Hispanic males (a difference of 9 percentage points).
 The state with the highest overall graduation
rate was New Jersey (88 percent), followed by
Iowa, Wisconsin, and North Dakota, each with 85 percent. The state
with the lowest overall graduation rate was
South Carolina (54 percent), followed by Georgia
(56 percent) and New York (58 percent).
 Each of the nation's ten largest public high
school districts, which enroll more than 8 percent
of the nation's public school student population,
failed to graduate more than 60 percent of its
students.
 Among the nation's 100 largest public school
districts (by total enrollment size), the highest
graduation rate was in Davis, Utah (89 percent),
followed by the Ysleta Independent School District
in Texas (84 percent). Among the 100 largest
districts, the lowest graduation rate was in
San Bernardino City Unified district (42 percent),
followed by Detroit (42 percent) and New York
City (43 percent).
About the Authors
Jay P. Greene, Ph.D., is Endowed Chair
and Head of the Department of Education Reform
at the University of Arkansas and a Senior Fellow
at the Manhattan Institute. He has conducted evaluations
of school choice and accountability programs in
Florida, Charlotte, Milwaukee, Cleveland, and
San Antonio. He has also recently published research
on high school graduation rates, social promotion,
and special education. His articles have appeared
in policy journals, such as The Public Interest,
City Journal, and Education Next,
in academic journals, such as the Teachers
College Record, the Georgetown Public Policy
Review, and the British Journal of Political
Science, as well as in major newspapers, such
as the Wall Street Journal, the Washington
Post, and USA Today. Dr. Greene is
the author of Education
Myths (Rowman & Littlefield, 2005).
His education research has been cited in U.S.
Supreme Court opinions and has appeared in scholarly
and popular publications. Dr. Greene received
his doctorate in political science from Harvard
University in 1995.
Marcus A. Winters is a Senior Research
Associate at the Manhattan Institute and a Doctoral
Academy Fellow at the University of Arkansas.
He has performed several studies on a variety
of education policy issues, including highstakes
testing, charter schools, and the effects of vouchers
on the public school system. His oped articles
have appeared in numerous newspapers, including
the Washington Post, USA Today,
and the Chicago SunTimes. He received
his B.A. in political science with departmental
honors from Ohio University in 2002.
Introduction
The unreliability of official public high school
graduation rates is well known. It is so well
known that last year, the National Governors Association
(NGA) released a report that stated: “Unfortunately,
the quality of state high school graduation and
dropout data is such that most states cannot accurately
account for their students as they progress through
high school.”[1] In
response, fortyfive state governors signed an
agreement to implement an improved, standard calculation
of the fouryear high school graduation rate.
One might think that the battle has been won—that
there is no longer a need for independent estimates
of graduation rates, such as those that we have
produced in the past and that appear in this report.
But there are several reasons that we continue
to need these independent estimates of public
high school graduation rates. It will be many
years before most states develop the data systems
to accurately track students and compute graduation
rates. In the interim, we will continue to need
reliable estimates of graduation rates. The governors
have pledged to take reasonable steps to improve
graduation rate calculations until systems are
in place to track individual students over time.
But to ensure the proper implementation of both
the immediate and longterm reforms, we will need
independent estimates to verify the official statistics.
We would not have recognized the need for improvement
of official graduation statistics had it not been
for independent estimates; and we will not know
that they have, in fact, improved unless we continue
to produce those independent estimates.
We also continue to need reasonable independent
estimates of public high school graduation rates
because not everyone has accepted that the independent
estimates are more reliable than official statistics.
Even though most of the nation’s governors
concede the point, Lawrence Mishel of the Economic
Policy Institute has taken a firm stand in support
of the official results and against the independent
estimates.[2] Mishel’s
argument is that independent estimates rely upon
enrollment and diploma counts from the U.S. Department
of Education’s Common Core of Data (CCD).
How can we be sure, he asks, that those counts
are reliable? In addition, he observes that two
highquality government surveys, the Current Population
Survey (CPS) and the National Educational Longitudinal
Survey (NELS), produce graduation rate results
that are similar to each other and significantly
higher than the independent estimates based on
CCD.
Mishel speculates that the CCD counts may be
unreliable but offers no support for his speculation.
We have good reason to believe that the CCD enrollment
and diploma counts are reliable. CCD establishes
standards and procedures for states to collect
and report enrollment and diploma data. If states
do not meet those standards or follow those procedures,
their data are not reported.
It should not be difficult for states to track
enrollment and diplomas. Enrollment counts are
based on schools taking attendance, which schools
are very good at doing. One reason schools are
likely to keep accurate attendance is that enrollment
counts are the basis for school funding by state
and federal governments. Further, because attendance
determines how much money state and federal governments
allot to schools, these higher levels of government
are inclined to check and ensure the accuracy
of attendance figures. Similarly, diploma counts
are likely to be accurate because it is easy for
schools to count diplomas and it is easy to verify
the numbers. At the very least, schools have to
know how many diplomas should be printed and distributed.
Mishel specifically questions our estimates of
the entering ninthgrade class enrollment, which
he claims are distorted by the tendency for those
enrollments to be inflated because of students
being held back in that grade. It is possible
to run a simple check to see if our estimates
of ninthgrade enrollment are on target. Using
the official CCD enrollment counts, we estimate
that 3,635,420 students entered the ninth grade
in public school in 1999. According to the U.S.
Census—in a number derived from its CPS—there
were 3,892,340 fourteenyearolds in the nation
in June 1999. According to the National Center
for Education Statistics (NCES), 835,328 students
attended private high schools (in 2001), which,
divided by four, suggests that there were 208,832
ninthgraders in private school. If we subtract
the private school ninthgraders from the fourteenyearold
population, we are left with a difference between
the number of fourteenyearolds and our estimated
ninthgrade entering class of 48,088 students,
or 1.3 percent. It would seem that the enrollment
counts that we use are accurate.
Enrollments and diplomas are easy to count accurately,
and the actors have incentives to ensure that
the counts are accurate—a simple check helps
confirm that; on what basis does Mishel believe
otherwise? He simply has more faith in graduation
rates computed from CPS and NELS surveys than
in those derived from CCD enrollment and diploma
counts. Essentially, Mishel is arguing that we
ought to believe the results from samples more
than results from the population. This
is exactly the opposite of standard social science
practice. Normally, we expect some degree of error
whenever we survey a sample drawn from a population.
If we have concerns about the sample, we check
the characteristics of the sample against known
characteristics of the population from which the
sample was drawn to ensure its validity. In this
case, however, Mishel is suggesting that we ought
to check the accuracy of the characteristics of
the population against the characteristics in
samples.
Samples always involve some degree of random
error, but CPS and NELS have additional, known
biases for the purpose of calculating graduation
rates. The NELS and CPS surveys both overstate
graduation rates because they have difficulty
finding and following marginalized and disadvantaged
people, such as dropouts. Phillip Kaufman (the
primary author of previous government calculations
of graduation rates that used CPS) indicated that
such a coverage bias probably exists. Specifically,
dropouts are less likely to be reached by sample
surveys (that is, they are “undercovered”).
In a report for the Harvard Civil Rights Project,
Kaufman estimated that if we made the reasonable
assumption that 50 percent of those undercovered
by the CPS were dropouts, we would end up with
a completion rate of 80.4 percent.[3]
If we then excluded GED recipients from that estimate,
we would get much closer to the estimate of a
70 percent graduation rate that we and others
suggest. In other words, the systematic sampling
biases of CPS and NELS make their graduation numbers
higher and less reliable than those derived from
population counts.
We can do a simple check on Mishel’s “true”
graduation rates derived from CPS and “confirmed”
by NELS. If Mishel is correct in saying that the
true graduation rate is in the neighborhood of
90 percent,[4] there should
have been about 3,678,300 diplomas awarded in
2003 from public and private high schools. According
to CCD, there were only 3,062,000 diplomas given
out that year. If Mishel is correct, CCD would
have to have missed more than 600,000 diplomas
in its count. Is it more likely that CPS and NELS
suffer from a sampling bias due to the difficulty
of finding dropouts, or that school systems undercounted
the number of diplomas they awarded by more than
600,000, making those schools appear less successful
than they actually were by nearly 20 percent?
Until official graduation statistics produce
more reliable estimates, it is clear that we will
continue to need independent estimates of graduation
rates. Those independent estimates will also help
ensure progress toward improved official statistics.
What’s New in This Report?
While this report builds upon a foundation of
previous reports, there is much that is new. First,
this report contains graduation rate estimates
for the class of 2003, the most recent year for
which data are available. Unfortunately, CCD enrollment
and diploma counts are being released with greater
time lags. However, since graduation rates tend
not to change dramatically in short periods of
time, this study provides a valuable snapshot
of the performance of public schools today.
Second, in this report we are able for the first
time to break out graduation rates by gender.
Observers have long suspected that the graduation
rate for boys is significantly lower than that
for girls. CCD now contains enough information
to allow us to estimate graduation rates using
our method for boys and girls separately.
Third, this report contains graduation rates for
each of the 100 largest school districts in the
country. We previously reported rates for these
districts in a 2001 report, “High School
Graduation Rates in the United States,” with
results for the class of 1998. But in the last
few national reports, we did not release results
for districts. The district results in the 2001
report were based on enrollment and diploma information
gathered from districts and states. After releasing
that report, we had concerns about the reliability
and consistency of those counts, so we refrained
from producing district graduation rates in subsequent
national reports. For this report, we believe
that we have addressed those concerns by relying
only on district information gathered from CCD.
Because of the uniform standards and procedures
enforced by CCD, we feel confident once again
to report district results. It is important to
note that no comparisons ought to be made between
the district results for the class of 2003 and
our previously reported district results for the
class of 1998. Because those earlier results may
not be reliable and were not computed using the
same method as the current report, no conclusions
should be drawn about any change in graduation
rates for the districts.
In this report, there is no need to discuss issues
that we have covered in previous reports. For
example, if readers are interested in our thoughts
on why graduation rates are important, how officially
reported rates are often mistaken, why GEDs ought
not to be included in graduation rates, and other
related issues, we would urge them to peruse our
report “Public High School Graduation and
CollegeReadiness Rates: 1991–2002.”[5]
Summary of Results
Though they are consistent with previous evaluations,
the results reported in this paper are certain
to raise many eyebrows. Overall, we estimate that
only 70 percent of the students in the class of
2003 earned a high school diploma. This figure
represents little change from our estimate of
a 71 percent graduation rate for the class of
2002 and a 72 percent graduation rate for the
class of 1991. We discovered that about 78 percent
of white students and 72 percent of Asian students
graduated high school, but little more than half
of Hispanic and AfricanAmerican students took
home a sheepskin: 53 percent and 55 percent, respectively.
Further, in each racial category that we evaluate,
females graduate at a higher rate than males,
with a particularly large difference for Hispanic
and AfricanAmerican students. An already low
58 percent and 59 percent of Hispanic and AfricanAmerican
females graduated from high school in 2003; only
49 percent and 48 percent of males in these categories
earned a diploma.
Our districtlevel results suggest that high
school graduation rates are a particular problem
in our nation’s most populated school districts.
For example, only about 43 percent of the 1.1
million students in New York City public school
district graduate from high school. The calculations
are similarly disturbing for most of the nation’s
largest school systems. None of the nation’s
ten largest school systems, which over 8 percent
of U.S. public school children attend, graduates
more than 60 percent of its students.[6]
As with the nation as a whole, larger school districts
uniformly graduate far fewer minority and male
students than white and female students.
Data and Method
To calculate graduation rates for each state
and several school districts, we utilize enrollment
and diploma data reported by NCES, the statistical
arm of the United States Department of Education.
We acquired enrollments over several years by
grade, race, and gender from NCES’s Common
Core of Data (CCD). Unlike in previous years,
diploma counts for the class of 2003 were not
made publicly available, so those data were obtained
from the restrictedaccess data file of the CCD.[7]
The advantage of using CCD information on enrollments
is that these figures are the enrollments that
the states officially report to the federal government
under uniform guidelines. Thus, we can have confidence
that the data are accurate and comparable among
the states. The disadvantage of using CCD, however,
is that the data lag to the point where the most
recent graduation rate calculation available is
for the class of 2003. However, what is gained
in the quality of the data reported likely more
than outweighs the timing of the data, especially
considering that high school graduation rates
tend not to change substantially in a short time
span.
The method for calculating graduation rates is
straightforward. The method takes the form:
We must estimate the number of students who enter
the ninth grade in 1999 instead of simply taking
the reported ninthgrade enrollment in that year
because researchers agree that the ninthgrade
enrollment number is inflated by students repeating
ninth grade. What is often referred to as the
“ninthgrade bubble”—the tendency
for ninthgrade enrollments to be exceptionally
high compared with other grades—likely occurs
because the ninth grade is the first that students
must pass by earning a minimum number of credits.
Thus, ninthgrade reported enrollments reflect
the many students who are repeating the grade.
To estimate the cohort’s ninthgrade enrollment,
we cannot simply substitute the cohort’s
eighthgrade enrollment because a large number
of students who attend private school in the eighth
grade enter public school in the ninth grade (there
are far fewer private high schools, and they tend
to be more expensive). Further, we cannot use
only the cohort’s tenthgrade enrollment
because by that time, students have already begun
to drop out. To estimate the entering ninthgrade
cohort for the class of 2003, we take the average
reported enrollments of students in the eighth
grade in 1998, ninth grade in 1999, and tenth
grade in 2000.[8] The resulting
“smoothed” figure provides a reasonable
estimate of the entering student cohort.
A large percentage of states failed to report
enrollments by gender, especially in 1998, our
cohort’s eighthgrade year. All but two states,
however, reported high school diploma counts by
gender for the spring of 2003.[9]
In order to include as many states as possible
in our calculation, we adopted a strategy for
estimating the gender enrollments in eighth, ninth,
and tenth grades—which was implemented for
all states in the gender calculations. Nearly
all states reported enrollments by race and overall
for each of the years necessary to calculate graduation
rates.[10] To estimate the
enrollment by race/gender, we simply took each
state’s enrollment by race and multiplied
it by the percentage of fourteenyearolds in
the state of that race who were male or female
according to the U.S. Census in the summer before
the cohort’s ninthgrade year. For example,
in Arkansas in 1998, there were 26,433 white students
in the eighth grade. According to computations
using census data, 51.711 percent of white fourteenyearolds
in Arkansas in the summer of 1999 were male. Therefore,
we estimate that Arkansas had about 13,669 (or
26,433 x .51711, with rounding) white male students
in the eighth grade in 1998.[11]
To calculate the population change at the state
and national levels, we use population estimates
by age, race, and gender reported by the United
States Census.[12] We take
the difference between the number of seventeenyearolds
in the population during the summer of 2002 (the
summer before the cohort’s twelfthgrade
year) and the number of fourteenyearolds in
the population during the summer of 1999 (the
summer before the cohort’s ninthgrade year).
We then divide the resulting change in population
by the number of fourteenyearolds in 1999 to
get the percent increase (or decrease) in the
area’s population of students in the cohort’s
age group.
We use a different population change computation
for graduation rates by school district because
population estimates by age are not readily available
at the school district level. We use districtlevel
enrollments as a substitute for the age populations
and make the reasonable assumption that, on average,
transfers in and out of a high school are equal
for each grade in the school. We take the difference
between the number of students in grades nine
through twelve in 2002 (the cohort’s twelfthgrade
year) and the number of students in grades nine
through twelve in 1999 (the cohort’s ninthgrade
year) and divide the resulting figure by the number
of students in grades nine through twelve in 1999.
This produces an estimate of the percent change
in the district’s enrollment while the cohort
was in high school.
We then adjust the estimated ninthgrade cohort
by the change in the population while the students
were in high school. This produces the projected
graduating cohort—the number of students
who could possibly graduate with the class of
2003. Finally, we take the number of diplomas
that were actually given out in the spring of
2003 and divide it by the projected graduating
cohort. The result is the estimated high school
graduation rate.
Though this method tends to produce reliable
estimates of graduation rates, it can be distorted
when there are particularly small cohorts or when
population changes are extraordinarily large.
For this reason, we adopt and apply consistent
rules for excluding cohorts for which we do not
have adequate information.[13]
We do not report graduation rates for cohorts
of students less than or equal to 200 or when
the cohort’s population change is 30 percent
or greater. We also exclude any case where the
cohort is less than or equal to 2,000 and the
population change is 20 percent or greater. However,
though we do not report graduation rates in areas
with these cohort or populationchange levels,
their enrollments and populations are included
in the state and national calculations.
It is important to clarify that the method in
this paper is not a fouryear ontime graduation
rate. Though the method does follow high school
enrollments through four sequential grades, students
who take longer than four years to graduate are
estimated into the calculation as well. Such students
would exit our cohort; however, they would likely
be replaced by students in the previous cohort
class who have also taken longer to graduate.
For example, if a student who entered the ninth
grade in 1999 took five years to graduate (that
is, graduated with the class of 2004), he would
not receive a diploma in the spring of 2003 and
thus would not be included in our calculation.
However, if another student entered the ninth
grade in 1998 (the expected graduating class of
2002) and also took five years to graduate, that
student would receive a diploma in 2003 and would
thus be included in the graduation rate calculation.
As long as there are not dramatic yeartoyear
differences in the number of students who take
longer than four years to graduate, these students
should replace each other in the calculations,
and any distortion should be quite limited. Thus,
the result of our estimates can be thought of
as the graduation rate for the class of 2003,
not the ontime graduation rate for that class.
Unlike many other high school graduation rate
calculations, the estimates using the above method
can be manipulated to interpret the high school
dropout rate as well. The high school dropout
rate is found by subtracting the high school graduation
rate from 100. That is, a graduation rate of 70
percent implies a dropout rate of 30 percent.
Other graduation rate estimates (including nearly
all official government calculations) contend
that the dropout rate is different from simply
100 minus the graduation rate. They produce far
lower dropout estimates where many nongraduates
are classified in ways other than as dropouts.
However, this practice is contrary to both logic
and the public’s understanding of the information
that a high school graduation rate conveys. For
the purposes of our calculation, a student is
either a high school graduate or a high school
dropout: the student earns a diploma or does not.
Thus, our calculation is less confusing than many
other methods, and it matches what the public
and policymakers expect from a graduation rate.
The above calculations were performed to produce
graduation rates in total, by race, gender, and
race/gender for the nation, each state, and each
of the 100 largest school districts in the United
States for which data were available.
An Example of a StateLevel Graduation Rate
Calculation
An example of our calculation will illustrate
the method: let us calculate the total graduation
rate for New York State.
First, we estimate the number of students who
entered the cohort in ninth grade. In New York,
the enrollment in eighth grade in 1998 was 200,097,
ninth grade in 1999 was 252,864, and tenth grade
in 2000 was 217,734. The average of these enrollments
is 223,565, which is the estimated number of students
who entered the cohort in the ninth grade. Note
that the ninthgrade enrollment is much higher
than either the eighthgrade or tenthgrade enrollment:
this is the “ninthgrade bubble” referred
to previously.
Next, we compute the change in New York’s
population of the cohort’s age group. In
June 2002, there were 261,326 seventeenyearolds
in New York; and in June 1999, there were 233,701
fourteenyearolds in the state. The difference
in these populations is an increase of 27,625
children. We then divide this difference by the
number of fourteenyearolds in 1999 (27,625 divided
by 233,701) to get a population change of about
12 percent.
We then combine our estimated ninthgrade class
with the population change to produce an estimated
number of students who could graduate from high
school among the entering cohort. We take the
estimated number of entering ninthgraders in
1999 (223,565) and multiply this number by 112
percent (100 percent plus the 12 percent population
increase in the state). This produces a potential
graduating class of 249,992 students.
Finally, we calculate the state’s graduation
rate by dividing the number of diplomas that were
distributed in New York in the spring of 2003
(143,818) by the estimated number of students
who could graduate in the cohort (249,992). This
produces an estimated graduation rate of 57.5
percent for the state of New York for the class
of 2003.
An Example of a DistrictLevel Graduation
Rate Calculation
Since the method varies slightly, it is useful
to illustrate our calculation of the districtlevel
graduation rates with another example: let us
calculate the total graduation rate for Los Angeles.
The enrollment in Los Angeles in the eighth grade
in 1998 was 45,053, ninth grade in 1999 was 58,834,
and tenth grade in 2000 was 46,664. The average
of these enrollments is 50,183, which is the estimated
number of students who entered the ninth grade
in 1999. Again, note the bubble in the ninthgrade
enrollment.
We next calculate the population change using
the school district’s high school enrollments
during the cohort’s ninth and twelfthgrade
years. In 2002, the cohort’s twelfthgrade
year, in Los Angeles there were 68,802 students
in the ninth grade, 49,109 students in the tenth
grade, 38,387 students in the eleventh grade,
and 27,253 students in the twelfth grade, which
totals 183,551 students in the high school grades.
In 1999, the cohort’s ninthgrade year in
Los Angeles, there were 58,834 students in the
ninth grade, 46,971 students in the tenth grade,
36,825 students in the eleventh grade, and 28,369
students in the twelfth grade, which totals 170,999
in all high school grades in the school district.
We take the number of students in high school
in 2002 (183,551) and subtract from it the number
of high school students in 1999 (170,999) to get
an increase in the population of 12,552. We then
divide this figure (12,552) by the number of high
school students in 1999 (170,999) to get a population
increase of 6 percent.
Next, we adjust the estimated entering ninthgrade
class by the increase in the Los Angeles school
district’s population. We take the estimated
ninthgrade cohort (50,183) and multiply it by
106 percent (100 percent plus the 6 percent population
increase) to get an estimated potential graduating
cohort of 53,150 students.
Finally, we divide the number of regular diplomas
that were granted by the Los Angeles school district
in the spring of 2003 (27,563) by the number of
students we estimated could potentially graduate
in the cohort (53,150). This produces an estimated
graduation rate of 51 percent for the Los Angeles
school district in 2003.
Results
The results of our statelevel and national calculations
of graduation rates overall, by race, gender,
and race/gender are reported alphabetically by
state in Table
1.
The national overall graduation rate is about
70 percent, which is in line with calculations
from previous years. Nationally, about 78 percent
of white students and 72 percent of Asian students
graduated with a regular diploma in the class
of 2003, compared with the much lower estimates
of 53 percent for Hispanic students and 55 percent
of AfricanAmerican students. Female students
graduated at a rate of about 72 percent, compared
with males at about 65 percent. The race and gender
gaps in high school graduation also held when
evaluating by race/gender. At only 48 percent,
AfricanAmerican male students reported the lowest
graduation rates of any subgroup nationally, while
white female students had the highest graduation
rate, at 79 percent. The disparity between male
and female graduation rates was much higher for
AfricanAmerican (females, 59 percent; males,
48 percent) and Hispanic (females, 58 percent;
males, 49 percent) students than for Asian or
white students.
Table 2 ranks the states by overall high school
graduation rate. The table shows that graduation
rates differed substantially among the states.
New Jersey had the highest overall graduation
rate (88 percent) and was followed by Iowa, Wisconsin,
and North Dakota, each at 85 percent. The lowest
overall graduation rate was in South Carolina
(54 percent), followed by Georgia (56 percent)
and New York (58 percent).
Some states fared well overall but had low graduation
rates for certain populations of students. For
example, Wisconsin ranked third in the nation
for overall graduation rate mostly because it
had the highest graduation rate for white students.
However, of the thirtythree states for which
the necessary information was available to calculate
graduation rates for AfricanAmerican students,
Wisconsin ranked thirtysecond. Conversely, Texas
ranked thirtysixth in the nation in overall graduation
rate but had the fifthhighest graduation rate
for AfricanAmerican students among the thirtythree
states for which adequate information was available.
Graduation rates overall and for each subgroup
for the 100 largest school districts (and a few
other districts of interest) are reported in order
of the district’s total enrollments in 2002
in Table 3, and alphabetically in Table
4.[14] The appearance
that larger school districts have lower graduation
rates is confirmed by a simple Pearson’s
correlation, which finds a negative correlation
between total enrollment and total graduation
rate of 0.32. However, one should be very cautious
in making a conclusion about the role of district
size on graduation rates from such a calculation,
since this does not account for differences in
the populations of students educated in these
districts. Larger districts, for example, could
have a much higher proportion of minority students,
which might lead to lower overall graduation rates.
Table 5 ranks the 100 largest school districts
by their overall graduation rate. Among the 100
largest school districts, Davis (UT) has the highest
graduation rate, at 89 percent, followed by Ysleta
(TX) at 84 percent and East Baton Rouge Parrish
(LA) at 83 percent. The lowest graduation rate
of the nation’s 100 largest school districts
was in San Bernardino (CA), at 42 percent; Detroit
(MI) was also at 42 percent, and the nation’s
largest school district, New York City, at 43
percent.
Conclusion
The graduation rate estimates for the class of
2003 reported in this paper confirm that far fewer
students graduate high school than is often realized.
It is important for policymakers and the public
to understand that only about 70 percent of all
students and a little more than half of Hispanic
and AfricanAmerican students graduate from high
school. While it is not the place of this report
to provide guidance on how to improve high school
graduation rates, these results do suggest that
there is a graduation problem that needs to be
addressed.
Another interesting finding in this report is
the difference in high school graduation rates
between males and females. Females graduate at
higher rates for each racial subgroup analyzed
in this report, but the gender gap in high school
graduation is particularly large for Hispanic
and AfricanAmerican students. The reasons for
this gap should be addressed in future research.
Finally, our calculation of high school graduation
rates for the 100 largest school districts suggests
that the graduation problem is centered primarily
in the nation’s largest school districts.
Only one of the nation’s ten largest school
districts in the nation—where more than 8
percent of all students attend school—graduates
more than 60 percent of its students. We are not
able in this report to define the reasons for
such low graduation rates in our nation’s
largest school systems; but clearly, if the public
is to improve high school graduation rates, it
would do well to focus its efforts on the education
provided in these urban areas.
Endnotes
1. National Governors Association,
“Graduation Counts: Redesigning the American
High School,” 2005.
2. Lawrence Mishel, “The Exaggerated Dropout
Crisis,” Education Week, March 8,
2006.
3. Phillip Kaufman, “The National Dropout
Data Collection System: Assessing Consistency,”
paper prepared for Achieve and the Civil Rights
Project, “Dropout Research: Accurate Counts
and Positive Interventions,” January 13,
2001.
4. We do not know precisely what Mishel claims
as the true graduation rate or how he computes
it because, as of this writing, he has not yet
released the report.
5. This report is available online at: http://www.manhattaninstitute.org/html/ewp_08.htm.
6. Authors’ calculations from CCD and National
Center for Education Statistics, Digest of Education
Statistics 2004, Table 37.
7. It appears that statelevel diplomas, both
overall and by race, will soon be publicly available.
However, it is unclear whether these data will
be made available by gender or by individual school
districts.
8. There were several cases in the eighthgrade
year in which enrollment data were not reported
by gender or race at the district level. In these
cases, we used reasonable proxies for the eighthgrade
enrollment. If a district was missing eighthgrade
enrollment by gender and race (for example, missing
AfricanAmerican females), our first strategy
was to multiply the district’s eighthgrade
enrollment by race by the percent of the population
of fourteenyearolds of that race that was male
or female in the district’s state as reported
by the census (i.e., the AfricanAmerican male
number was estimated by multiplying the number
of eighthgrade AfricanAmerican students by the
percent of fourteenyearold African Americans
in that state who were male). If the eighthgrade
enrollment was also missing by race, we inserted
the reported eighthgrade enrollment in the 1999
school year for the enrollment in 1998. Neither
calculation is likely to create a strong distortion
in the eighthgrade population, and any such distortion
is further contained by the fact that the eighthgrade
enrollment is only onethird of an estimate that
is then further adjusted by population changes
in the area.
9. New Hampshire and South Carolina did not report
diplomas by gender.
10. Arizona, Idaho, and New Jersey did not report
enrollments by race in all necessary years. Population
changes in Hawaii and the District of Columbia
were large enough to require their omission.
11. We did not carry out similar computations
by district because census data by district are
not readily available. Therefore, except for the
situation reported in n. 7 above, a district is
only included in our estimates by gender if it
reports the necessary enrollments in each year.
12. Available at: http://www.census.gov/popest/estimates.php.
13. These rules are the same as those in previous
evaluations using this method, and were first
developed in Jay P. Greene and Marcus A. Winters,
“Public High School Graduation Rates in the
United States,” Manhattan Institute Civic
Report 31, November 2002.
14. At the district level, a few graduation rates
were estimated to be slightly over 100 percent.
This likely occurs where there are very high graduation
rates, and error inherit in estimation caused
a result above 100 percent. Since such graduation
rates are not possible, in these cases we imputed
a graduation rate of 99 percent.
