INVISIBLE MEN

Most astonishing has been the fact that year after year, and still true in 2015, most districts and states have failed to adopt a uniform way of counting and making publicly available the graduation rates for Black males and other sub-group populations

Across the nation, states, localities, non-profit and corporate organizational partners have rightfully come together to build on the White House’s 2014 launch of the My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) initiative. The MBK effort seeks to encourage all communities to implement a coherent cradle-to-college-and-career strategy for improving the life outcomes of all young people, specifically males of color, to ensure that they reach their full potential. Schott applauds this goal and continues to engage in a number of efforts focused on achieving the outcomes.

For more than a decade, the Schott Foundation has led the efforts to collect, disaggregate and publish data on high school graduation outcomes for Black males. Most astonishing has been the fact that year after year, and still true in 2015, most districts and states have failed to adopt a uniform way of counting and making publicly available the graduation rates for Black males and other sub-group populations. It is widely known — from budgets to boardrooms — that you measure what matters. Thus, the failure of states and localities to take these actions renders Black males and other sub-group populations invisible in the critical arena of educational attainment and other positive outcomes that are vital to their success, our communities’ growth and to our country’s future.

In most states it is easier for the public to track the number of Black and Latino males who are incarcerated than the number who graduate from high school in any given year. Nationwide, there are three major data challenges that must be addressed if we are truly going to be our brothers’ keepers:

1. INVISIBLE STUDENTS

Many jurisdictions still over-report the number of students enrolled in their school or district when the students have either been long since pushed out or have dropped out. Some report students who they have not seen for years as enrolled in 12th grade as long as they have not officially informed their school or district that they have dropped out. Schools and districts continue this practice year after year until the student reaches that jurisdiction’s maximum age for schooling. This artificially inflates grade 12 enrollment in those districts, their states and nationally, as compared to districts that count grade 12 enrollments as students actually in grade 12 classrooms.

Equally problematic, enrollment data collected and made available by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) for students with Limited English Proficiency/English Language Learners, students enrolled in Individualized Education Programs, students who are eligible for free lunch and those eligible for reduced-price lunch are not disaggregated by grade, gender or race/ethnicity. It is, therefore, impossible to calculate progress through elementary and secondary school from national data for such categories as Black Hispanic students, students of Cuban or Central American origin, Japanese American students, students eligible for free lunch, English Language Learners, etc.

In addition to these problems, until 2011 there was no single accepted method of calculating graduation rates. Two that have come into common use include:

  • Averaged Freshman Graduation Rate (AFGR)—NCES reports AFGR data only for districts that report both graduates and enrollment. This rate is calculated from the average enrollment in successive years of grade 8, 9 and 10, with students in ungraded classrooms prorated among those grades. The averaged grade 9 enrollment is then divided into the number of students graduating four years after enrolling in grade 9.
  • Cohort Graduation Rate—Used by many states, this is the percentage of first-time ninth graders (the “cohort”) receiving diplomas four, five or six years later.

Schott has long advocated that states and districts count only the students who are actually in the classrooms, and that the Federal government lead an effort to establish a national standard for calculating graduation rates. There is a need to establish a vertically consistent procedure for calculating the denominator — the student group — that could be disaggregated by gender within race and ethnicity, as well as for special programs, and is nationally and historically comparable. To complete the task there is also a need to develop a similarly vertically consistent procedure for calculating the numerator — the number of diplomas awarded to the members of that group. Until this happens, Black males and too many of their underrepresented partners will continue to be invisible students.

2. INVISIBLE DIPLOMAS

From the point of view of the U.S. Department of Education (DOE), a high school graduate is whoever is deemed as such by the state agency reporting the data to DOE. Until there are national standards in this matter, conducting a comparative analysis of school effectiveness requires looking more closely at the very disparate individual state standards to be met by high school graduates for what may be multiple types of diplomas.

Currently, while some states offer two types of diplomas — Regular and Special Education — others continue to offer a wider variety of documents, which may include, but are not limited to, Advanced, Regular and Local diplomas and special diplomas for students with disabilities.

For example, for many years NCES accepted New York State “Local Diplomas” as fully equivalent to the state’s own Regents’ Diplomas and the diplomas of other states, even though “Local Diplomas” were not accepted by the state’s own colleges and universities. “Local Diplomas,” which were recently abolished, were disproportionately awarded to Black, and especially Black male, students, artificially inflating New York’s graduation rate for that group.

Another example: Louisiana provides “College and Career” and “Career” Diplomas, both of which are counted as diplomas, without qualification, although the latter are not comparable to diplomas from other states. In some states, GEDs, which were rarely aligned to career or college standards or supports, were counted as part of graduation rates.

Despite these disparities and the wide variety of diploma types, all are reported to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and counted as diplomas for graduation rate calculation purposes.

The Schott Foundation advocates a standard that counts only those diplomas usually accepted by the state’s own postsecondary institutions without remedial requirements, and not factoring into the graduation calculations high school diploma equivalents, “career,” “local” or similar special diplomas.

3. INVISIBLE POSITIVE DATA

For the past decade Schott has pleaded with individual states, districts and localities to obtain and publish education data specific to Black males. Simply stated, you cannot be the “keeper” of a population in your nation, state or community when you are unwilling to keep up with that population’s opportunities and challenges. In most states, these data were not widely made available to the public. Some states provide graduation data that is timely and in great detail; Maryland and California, for example, post on their websites the number of graduates by district for gender within race/ethnicity. Other states do not provide similar comprehensive and publicly available information. In the latter circumstance, state and/or district officials were contacted, sometimes repeatedly. When this effort has not provided the actual number of diplomas for the state or district, historical records and grade-to-grade attrition data serve as the basis for the graduation estimates. Although at each stage estimates are tested with alternative methods and by historical comparisons and by comparison with similar jurisdictions, projecting a number still remains less reliable than reporting to the public the actual graduation rate.

So that they can be held accountable for results, states and large districts should be required to annually publish online graduation data for all of its districts and high schools, disaggregated by race, ethnicity and gender as well as for students in special programs.

FROM DARKNESS TO LIGHT

During the launch of the MBK initiative, President Obama noted that MBK is simply about “Helping more of our young people stay on track.” Those who accept this challenge must commit to building the infrastructure to track where young people, specifically Black males, are going—not just the negative places, but the positive as well. If we are indeed going to be our brothers’ keepers, we must start by ensuring that their assets are just as visible as their deficits. We must ensure that the nation is aware of the true contributions and progress that they are making as much as they are aware of the problems they face. Our nation’s charge is not to keep our brothers invisible, but to be the keepers of the flame that exists in each of them, and through it allow them to operate and be seen as the positive lights that they are in our communities, states and country.