has led to serious overreporting of “official” high school graduation rates. Their analyses produce national graduation rates of about 70 percent overall and 50 percent for minorities, numbers that are lower than those reported on the basis of official government sources (e.g., Education Week, 2009; Greene and Winters, 2002; Warren, 2004). Some researchers also contend that this problem of overreporting the graduation rate has been getting worse over time (Heckman and LaFontaine, 2008, 2010). Others (e.g., Mishel and Roy, 2006) counter that these analyses are incorrect and that the graduation rate, while still unacceptably low, has been accurately reported in national government surveys and has not changed appreciably over the past 20 years. Similar discrepancies, depending on data sources and the analyses conducted, exist in dropout and graduation estimates at state and local levels. At a time when policy makers are vitally interested in tracking the incidence of dropping out of school, they are faced with choosing among substantially discrepant estimates that would lead them to different conclusions regarding both the size of the dropout problem and how it has changed in recent years.
Estimates of these rates are derived from a variety of sources using a variety of procedures. National estimates are derived from both cross-sectional and longitudinal sample surveys. The Current Population Survey (CPS) conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau is a nationally representative cross-sectional household survey that asks detailed questions about educational enrollment and experiences in October of each year. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and the Bureau of Labor Statistics periodically conduct longitudinal surveys that track representative samples of youth through the usual high school years and beyond.
School administrative records on enrollments, dropouts, and diplomas have typically been used by states and school districts for reporting these rates. These data are reported annually to NCES as part of the Common Core of Data (CCD) collection of information on public schools in the country and have also been used to generate national, state, and district estimates of dropout and completion rates. Many states and school districts now have longitudinal unit-record administrative data systems that allow them to track the progress of individual students over time. However, decisions about ways to handle specific groups of students (e.g., students who transfer or who leave school but obtain a high school equivalency credential, like the General Educational Development [GED]) can affect the statistics that are calculated, even when the same formulas are used to calculate the rates.
Each data source brings with it a unique set of issues that can substantially affect the quality and usefulness of dropout rate statistics. Rates derived from sample-based surveys (both cross-sectional and longitudinal) have