Minnesota malarkey: On dropout rates and facts

I listened to The Daily Circuit on MPR Friday, with local “experts” debating what we should do about education (starting at about 37:16.) Peter Bell criticized Minnesota schools and repeatedly said, “The dropout rate in some districts is 50 percent.” He is absolutely, 100 percent dead wrong on the dropout rates, but nobody challenged him on the facts. Not the host. Not the other guests.

Why not? Does Minnesota Nice mean that we don’t call out people who misstate the facts? Why isn’t truth an issue for pundits and politicians alike?

First, let’s clear up the “dropout rate” malarkey. In the Twin Cities metro area, only 8 percent of people over the age of 25 do not have a high school diploma or equivalent. Eight percent. You cannot get from “50 percent dropout rate” to 92 percent with at least a high school diploma or GED. And national figures are similar.

Do we need to improve our schools? Of course, we do — that’s not the issue. The issue is using phony numbers to downgrade and disrespect the hard work that students and teachers are already doing.

Aside from the education reform arguments, the bigger issue is the complete disregard for the truth by public figures. That disregard for the truth leads people to assume that “It’s all lies,” or “Everybody lies about politics” — and then to just quite caring about truth and about right and wrong.

Truth is not some unachievable ideal, even when it comes to complex issues. Truth is a minimum requirement for civic discourse and decision-making. (Neither Democrats nor Republicans have a monopoly on getting the facts right. I have called out people I agree with for getting the facts wrong in the past, and I’ll do so again.)

I am fed up with people who deliberately (or carelessly) get the facts wrong about important issues, or just talk off the top of their heads without even trying to find facts. Getting the facts right doesn’t mean agreeing about policies or candidates, but getting the facts right is the essential basis for any kind of reasoned discussion or debate.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Minnesota malarkey: On dropout rates and facts

  1. amylynnbq

    I’m not defending the 50% dropout rate figure, but aren’t you comparing apples and oranges? Your 92% figure includes GEDs. People can (and do) drop out of high school and then go on to earn a GED. (That’s what one of my brothers did.) So your figure doesn’t really refute Peter Bell’s.

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    • News Day

      It’s true that Bell might be excluding GED completion – but that’s a legitimate measure of who actually gets that level of education. And even if GED is not counted, the dropout rates arte not 50 percent, if legitimate measures are used. Typically, people who want to cite high dropout rates do thing like identifying the percentage of ninth-graders who graduate within four years from the same high school – without accounting for transfers, moves, or students who graduate in August or in five years. Even with a limit of “regular diploma” and “within four years,” MN rates are about 79 percent. (See http://www.all4ed.org/files/Minnesota_wc.pdf) I would argue that, in particular, the “within four years” criterion is unacceptable because it excludes kids who need more time for any number of reasons.
      Using the graduate-on-time-in-four-years standard, the Minnesota Department of Education reports that Minneapolis has a 46.9 percent graduation rate in 2011 – but that an additional 32.7 percent are still enrolled. That does not add up to a 50 percent dropout rate.

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  2. amylynnbq

    Yes, as you suggest, not graduating within 4 years is not the same as dropping out. “Not all students who do not graduate on time dropout; many continue their education. In 2009, while 44 percent of Minneapolis Public School students graduated after four years of high school, the rate rises to 56 percent of students who graduated in four, five or six years’ time.” http://www.minneapolisfoundation.org/OneMinneapolis/Home/How/graduatingon-time.aspx

    My point was simply that your 92% figure for people who have either received a high school diploma or earned a GED doesn’t really speak to graduation rates. In theory, that 92% figure is consistent with anywhere from zero to 92% of all students graduating from high school.

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  3. Kaye Peters

    I also heard that program, Bell’s ignorant comments and Miller’s offer to have him back to discuss his brainstorm of solutions to improve education. I also heard him state that Republicans had the only real reform ideas: charter schools and vouchers. Honestly? What about Peer Assistance and Review? What about training for teachers provided through our unions or collaborative projects leading to out-of-the-box ideas like Home Visits by teachers to build relationships? I was flabbergasted. Maybe Miller and her guests were too. Seems to be the latest right-wing strategy. Leave ’em speechless.

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