Atlanta Public Schools graduation rates reveal some very interesting information – does it also change the debate?

[Updated & corrected] The GA Department of Education released the statewide graduation rates (see here) and the information provides a great deal of insight into graduation rates across the Atlanta Public Schools. In addition, there are some preliminary conclusions that may change how we debate the allocation of resources across the District.

The chart below extracts some of the information from the numbers released on Wednesday (click on chart to enlarge). Also, see Note at end of post on the methodology to establish the racial composition of the initial 2013 cohort.

Grad rates 2013 four year - econ dis

Based on the information provided by the GA DOE and some additional extrapolations of the data, the following are some preliminary assessments:

APS is an Overwhelmingly Minority District – While I realize this is not news to anyone, my sense is that the 95% composition of minority students in the [2013 cohort] District is higher than most people thought. Why is this important? Often debates center around the disparities between minority and non-minority students. What the numbers tell us is that any time spent on this debate is a waste of time as the number on non-minority students is small. And no matter how you slice the numbers, the vast bulk of the resources are being spent on minority students. Additionally, if you were to add the charter schools (which are APS public schools) racial composition into the analysis, the percent would increase above 95%.

The Economically Disadvantaged Graduation Rates Mirror the School Graduation Rate – [Added] The original post was written based on certain data that was subsequently determined to be incorrect. I withdraw this conclusion in its entirety.] The argument that the economic status of students has a strong correlation with the graduation rate success is absolutely false. Just take a look at the numbers – in almost all cases, the percent graduation rate for the students who are economically disadvantaged is very close to the graduation rate for the school. In other words, whether the school is doing well or poorly in graduating students, the proportion of economically disadvantaged students very closely follows the pattern. In fact, across the District, there is a 58.6% graduation rate in total and economically disadvantaged students graduate at a rate of 57.7% – nearly identical.

Now this is not to say that there may be any number of other social or economic factors that impact the graduation rate at various schools – however, the economic disadvantage statistic tells us nothing about graduation rates and its use in an argument should be dismissed as non-dispositive.

A Triage Tell Us Where to Go First to Stop the Bleeding – Of the 3,100 students in the initial cohort, 1,284 did not graduate. However, Crim HS – which appears to be where students are sent if all hope of them graduating is gone – represents 33% of the non-graduating students. Of the remaining 67%, 384 or 30% of the non-graduates are concentrated in three schools – Mays, Therrell and Douglas High Schools. A triage to stop the bleeding indicates that these schools are where the focus should be.

That is not to say that the rest of the schools should be ignored – they should not – however, the priority of focusing resources to improve graduation rates should be directed to the worst performing schools as quickly as possible.

As a side note, there appears to be a problem at the School of Technology at Carver as there was a dramatic reduction in the graduation rate as compared to last year. This would indicate either some “tracking problems” or a delayed graduation rate for some students that will be resolved when the five-year graduation rates come out next year. However, if this is not the case, then Carver should be added to the triage group as well.

Schools with Larger Initial Cohorts Performed Better than Smaller Cohorts – the high schools with the larger number in the starting cohort for 2013 did a much better job of graduating students. Grady, North Atlanta, Carver and Mays – with initial cohorts of 416, 313, 351 and 431, respectively – also had the highest graduation rates.

The high schools with the smallest cohorts – Washington (189), South Atlanta (230), Maynard Jackson (217), Therrell (235) and Douglas (270) – had the worst graduation rates in the District. Does this indicate that the size of the school has an impact on graduation rates? Maybe or maybe not, but it is likely that a smaller school (that is less cost efficient) may have some difficulty in freeing up resources that it can concentrate on at risk students.

All in all, the information provided by the graduation rates is a great starting point for developing future resource allocations. My hope is that the Administration uses the information as substantiation for resource allocations in the upcoming budget discussions. Additionally, it would be nice if some of the arguments that are not supported by the facts are dispelled from the debate.

Note – the information issued by the GA DOE does not include a numerical demographic breakdown of the cohort and this information may not be released due to student privacy concerns. However, I estimated the numbers based on the demographic composition of the 9th grade class in 2010 from information published by the GA DOE (see here) and applied it to the 2013 cohort.

[Follow me on Twitter @Financial_Decon]

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