Why High School Dropout Rates Can Be Misleading

Why High School Dropout Rates Can Be Misleading

Education is one of the most powerful tools we have, both for individuals and society as a whole. At New Dawn Charter Schools, we're focused on making sure each and every person has the opportunity to achieve a high school diploma. This will empower them to achieve their goals in higher education, the workforce, and beyond. In this article, we'll examine the national state of high school dropout rates, then look at how it compares and contrasts to a more local view, specifically at NDCHS.

What are the latest high school dropout rates?

There has been some good news in recent years on high school dropout statistics. From 2010 to 2021, the nation saw a considerable improvement in high school student retention (with a small dip in 2020 due to the beginning of COVID-19). The national dropout rate in 2021 for students of all ethnicities averaged at 5.2% down from 8.3% in 2010, according to the National Center for Education Studies.

However, according to the New York City DOE, the city's high school dropout rate increased by 0.5 percentage points, from 4.9% in August 2021 to 5.4% in August 2022.

It's important to note that those percentages represent a large number of young individuals. The city's school system, the largest in the United States, had 1,047,000 students in 2022-23. So a dropout rate of 5.4% represents about 56,000 young people. For the U.S., with an estimated 16,892,000 students enrolled, a 5.2% dropout rate represents about 878,000 students. That's a huge number of high school students who won't get a proper education or diploma.

What are some dropout risk factors for students?

Many factors place students at higher risk of dropping out before graduation, but the most prominent is socioeconomic status. The high school dropout rate in 2014 among persons 16-24 years old was highest in low-income families (11.6%) as compared to high-income families (2.8%), according to a report on "Education and Socioeconomic Status" by the American Psychological Association. For one thing, schools zoned in lower-income districts receive less education funding, the report said. This can result in poorer educational outcomes all around, particularly when coupled with a lack of resources and family support in the home. Lower-income students typically get the short end of the stick when it comes to educational opportunities.

Language barriers also prove to be a huge risk factor. According to the U.S. Education Department’s Office of English Language Acquisition, data from the 2017-18 school year showed that New York had the worst educational outcomes for English Language Learners, with a 31% graduation rate.

What are the outcomes for high school students who drop out?

There's no shortage of data that warns about the outcomes for students who drop out of high school. According to one 2016 study by the Journal of Adolescent Health, high school dropouts were up to four times more likely to experience these individual negative outcomes by age 27:

  • Being arrested
  • Being fired from their jobs
  • Depending on government assistance
  • Using illicit substances
  • Having poor health

They're 24 times more likely than graduates to experience as many as four or more negative outcomes.

The evidence also points to lower overall salaries for those who do not graduate from high school. For example, according to NCES, the median earnings in 2017 for full-time workers ages 25-34 who had not completed high school were $26,000, much lower than the $32,000 for workers whose highest education level was high school completion. Among 25- to 34-year-olds in the labor force, the unemployment rate for high school dropouts was 13%, almost double the rate for those whose highest level of education was a high school credential (7%).

The story behind the statistics at charter high schools in New York

Now, how do Charter Transfer Schools, such as New Dawn Charter Schools, contribute to the battle of reducing high school dropout rates?

Let's start by looking at how the transfer school alternative accountability movement began. In the mid-2000s, one New York charter school, JVL Wildcat Academy Charter School, was being threatened with closure by the state because of claims that their graduation rates were too low to continue receiving funding. Official numbers were showing rates as low as 11%, with only 14 students graduating. Many other charter schools in the New York school system were being threatened with closure for similar reasons.

But numbers can be deceptive. The percentage was calculated by including only students who were graduating with their 4-year cohorts. State officials were leaving out the much older students who were graduating after their 4-year cohorts. In reality, 93 students were receiving their high school diploma. The charter schools began to push hard for alternative assessments for graduation outcomes, and they now are finding support for that from the Charter School Office Executive Director.

Similarly, in 2021, New Dawn Charter High School – Brooklyn had 23 out of 81 expected students officially reported by the state as graduated. However, that did not reflect the reality of the success of that class. The school had 54 students who actually walked at graduation, but 31 of them were deemed "too old to count" by the state's standards. A 19-, 20-, or 21-year-old has the exact same claim to school completion as their younger peers, and New Dawn Charter Schools honors that.

How NDCHS is changing the narrative

NDCHS is committed to supporting every student's academic success. Yet, one of its biggest hurdles is making it clear that the state's official statistics don't reflect the reality of our students over age 18 who are at-risk as "dropouts." Students at transfer charter schools who receive the education that they otherwise wouldn't and proudly step forward in graduation ceremonies represent success, regardless of the official tallies.

New Dawn's very existence as a New York City Transfer School is — in fact — a vital force in improving high school dropout rates in the education system. Its focus remains on reaching, educating and providing opportunities for "at-promise" students (shifting the narrative from "at-risk students"). And it optimizes professional development programs for its educators and administration like The Reaching At-Promise Students Association (RAPSA) and Momentum Education.

As a powerful force in alternative education, New Dawn Charter High School changes the trajectory of students who were bound to become another dropout statistic by:

  • Focusing on dropout prevention strategies.
  • Preparing students for the job market, trade school, higher education, or wherever their passions lead them.
  • Serving populations who are traditionally underprivileged.
  • Providing diverse resources to address specific emotional and social student needs.
  • Providing inclusive classrooms that serve over-aged and under-credited students, individuals who need special education, and English Language learners.

Wondering whether you or your student would benefit from transferring to NDCHS?

New Dawn Charter Schools operates two New York City Transfer Schools that are designed and dedicated to helping students who have either dropped out or are in-school truants — those who will most likely not graduate with their four-year 9th grade peers. Our first school is in Brooklyn and our second school opened in Queens.

If you're interested in enrolling your high school student in New Dawn Charter Schools, find out here whether they're eligible for enrollment and get your application started today!