Leeds National Benefit-Cost Study: Dropout Prevention Saves $127K Per Student

From the introduction to “The Costs and Benefits of an Excellent Education for All of America’s Children” (PDF):

Broad policy decisions in education can be framed around a simple question: Do the benefits to society of investing in an educational strategy outweigh the costs?

We provide an answer for those individuals who currently fail to graduate from high school. The present cohort of 20-year olds in the US today includes over 700,000 high school dropouts, many from disadvantaged backgrounds. We investigate the economic consequences of improving their education.

First, we identify five leading interventions that have been shown to raise high school graduation rates; and we calculate their costs and their effectiveness. Second, we add up the lifetime public benefits of high school graduation. These include higher tax revenues as well as lower government spending on health, crime, and welfare. (We do not include private benefits such as higher earnings). Next, we compare the costs of the interventions to the public benefits.

We find that each new high school graduate would yield a public benefit of $209,000 in higher government revenues and lower government spending for an overall investment of $82,000, divided between the costs of powerful educational interventions and additional years of school attendance leading to graduation. The net economic benefit to the public purse is therefore $127,000 per student and the benefits are 2.5 times greater than the costs. If the number of high school dropouts in this age cohort was cut in half, the government would reap $45 billion via extra tax revenues and reduced costs of public health, of crime and justice, and in welfare payments. This lifetime saving of $45 billion for the current cohort would also accrue for subsequent cohorts of 20-year olds. If there is any bias to our calculations, it has been to keep estimates of the benefits conservative. Sensitivity tests indicate that our main conclusions are robust: the costs to the nation of failing to ensure high school graduation for all America’s children are substantial. Educational investments to raise the high school graduation rate appear to be doubly beneficial: the quest for greater equity for all young adults would also produce greater efficiency in the use of public resources.

Additional reports are available on the CBCSE website.

Half of Urban High School Students Don’t Graduate, Study Finds

A recent study by Colin and Alma Powell’s America’s Promise Alliance found that fully half of high school students in the nation’s 50 largest cities leave high school without a diploma.

The foundation offers a number of strategic foci, including promoting supportive relationships with adults, early intervention, and and an emphasis on marketable skills. The Alliance also has a public-policy wing called First Focus.

Interestingly, this study does not rely on notoriously unreliable graduation rate statistics; instead, it uses enrollment data to calculate the chances the average 9th grader has of earning a diploma. Link to study summary (PDF)

This method for calculating graduation rates is called the Cumulative Promotion Index (CPI), and is calculated as follows:
Cumulative Promotion Index

The CPI has several apparent advantages over other means of determining dropout rates:

  • It does not rely on wildly varying district dropout data (for example, some districts only count a dropout if the student fills out a form expressing his or her intent to drop out, and does not count the student as a dropout if they simply stop attending)
  • It accounts for changes in the enrollment of the district, so it’s more accurate than simply dividing the number of diplomas issued by the number of enrolled 9th graders
  • It incorporates data from each stage of advancement in a high schooler’s career, from 9th to 10th to 11th to 12th to graduation

The data are sobering: barely half of students in core urban districts graduate, while their suburban peers graduate at much higher rates – approaching double in some cases.

The report concludes:

If three out of every 10 students in the nation failing to graduate is reason for concern, then the fact that just half
of those educated in America’s largest cities are finishing high school truly raises cause for alarm. And the much
higher rates of high school completion among their suburban counterparts – who may literally live and attend
school right around the corner – place in a particularly harsh and unflattering light the deep undercurrents of
inequity that plague American public education. (PDF)

Indeed. If ever we needed a reminder of the seriousness of the challenges we face in urban education, the time is now, and this is the data we need.

International Baccalaureate for All?

In this article at Edutopia, Fran Smith describes the growing popularity of the International Baccalaureate program, which allows high school students to earn college credit by taking rigorous courses in high school.

The program is catching on because of its prestige and because it has significant effects on student achievement – even for students who haven’t done particularly stellar work previously. South Side High School in New York state now attempts to reach all students with IB classes:

Of the 265 graduates in South Side’s class of 2006, 124 — nearly half — were IB diploma candidates. The statistics have made the school a poster child for IB inclusion, but [principal] Burris and [IB coordinator] Murphy are determined to get more kids — all kids — to reach for the educational gold.

The article leads with an intriguing set of questions: “Is IB the best way to improve the nation’s schools, as supporters claim? Or is it an elitist fad at best — and perhaps anathema to American values, as some critics contend?” However, it doesn’t delve into the controversies so much as describe the benefits of the program.

The very availability of IB (or their more common sibling, Advanced Placement) classes calls into question our basic values. Do we want to offer a tiered education system, in which some students are challenged with world-class instruction, while others languish in “business math” and “life skills”? Does this create a separate-and-unequal division within our high schools? Or is it right and necessary to offer different levels of challenge to meet the needs of different students, and different programs to help them meet their goals?

Relatively few voices advocate the wholesale dismantling of all advanced-track programs. However, more and more evidence is emerging that there is no valid or just reason to maintain entrance requirements for these classes. The IB coordinator at South Side says as much:

“Some people say that if the student hasn’t previously demonstrated what you envision as academic excellence, they don’t belong in the program,” Murphy says. “What we’ve found is the exact opposite. If you want academic excellence, put students in an academically excellent program. They’ll rise to the occasion.”

At any rate, IB and AP are picking up speed as powerful ways to raise achievement and college acceptance rates.

Two Student Athletes Lead by Example

In this Washington Post article (via ASCD’s SmartBrief), Dion Haynes tells the story of two student athletes who made a pact to set an example for their peers at a DC public high school.

Jachin Leatherman and Wayne Nesbit, both star football players, turned down scholarships to prep schools in order to attend troubled Ballou High School. The article is an amazing account of the leadership and role modeling they have provided for their African American male peers, serving as peer tutors for their football teammates and challenging them to join the National Honor Society.

Read the article here.

Gates Foundation Small Schools: Success, Failure, and Lessons Learned

BusinessWeek describes the first six years of the $29 billion Bill & Melinda Gates Foundations’ efforts to reform troubled high schools:

After gathering a team of experts, they decided to focus on high school dropouts, the 20% to 30% of teens who fail to get a degree in four years. The foundation embraced what many social scientists had concluded was the prime solution: Instead of losing kids in large schools like Manual, the new thinking was to divide them into smaller programs with 200 to 600 students each. Doing so, numerous studies showed, would help prevent even hard-to-reach students from falling through the cracks. The foundation didn’t set out to design schools or run them. Its goal was to back some creative experiments and replicate them nationally. “I thought, if you get enough of these going across the country, people will realize they’re good, and more and more will pop up,” says Melinda Gates, who devotes several hours a week to education philanthropy.

Six years and a steep learning curve later, the Gateses see just how intractable are the many ills plaguing America’s worst schools. It has been a difficult, even humbling experience. Melinda Gates says she and Bill didn’t realize at first how much cooperation it would take from school districts and states to break up traditional big schools. “If you want to equate being naive with being inexperienced, then we were definitely naive when we first started,” she says. “There are a lot of places where many people have given up, or decided that ‘bad schools are not my problem.’ There are also a lot of entrenched interests.” read more

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