High School Drop Out Rates

Because different public school jurisdictions currently define the term "drop out" differently, it's almost impossible to determine statewide high school drop out rates, much less the national rate. The discrepancy in reporting the incidence of dropping out has prompted changes in the federal educational system with regard to the definition of dropping out.

On April 1, 2008, Margaret Spellings, the current US Secretary of Education made the announcement that steps are being made to streamline the definition and designation of students leaving school in order to formulate a more workable way of calculating high school drop out rates. The same criteria are to be used in every public school across the nation.

Even without a uniform means of determining current high school drop out rates, there are some obvious trends. Consider:

  • Only about 50% of the student population graduates from high school.
  • In many urban school districts, only 25% to 35% of the student body graduates on schedule.
  • In suburban districts, 75% of the students graduate traditionally and on time.
  • Only about 50% of African-American and Hispanic students complete high school on schedule.
  • 90% of the jobs in the fastest-growing industries require more than a high school education.

The current high school drop out rates are so disturbing that they are referred to as a silent epidemic by the US Department of Education (ED). Even students report a profound impact the high rate of dropping out has caused among peers and their families.

To account for our nation's extreme high school drop out rates, described as a crisis, the ED cites these discrepancies in accounting for such students.

In some school districts, a student can simply stop coming to school and not be considered a drop out. To be counted as a drop out, these school districts require the student to officially register as one first.

Some school districts take a high school drop out's word that he or she will pursue a General Educational Development (GED) certification in lieu of a diploma. Students who make this promise are classified as graduates, not drop outs, although there is no system in place for making sure the GED is actually earned.

With a more streamlined approach to identifying drop outs and improving high school drop out rates, the ED hopes to overcome this silent epidemic and increase the number of high school graduates across the nation. In her announcement speech, Spelling made it clear that is almost impossible to reverse high school drop out rates when the dropped students can't even be clearly identified.