Following up on the graduation rate debate. I found more reliable, but not perfect, longitudinal data on the number of high school graduates going back to 1880.
The graph shows the degree ratio--the number of high school diplomas conferred divided by the number of 17 year olds. This ratio excludes alternative means of obtaining a diploma, such as the GED, which have been increasing in recent years.
We're interested in 1958 to present. Overall, the trend is flat. If anything, there was an uptick until the mid sixties and then a slow decline back to the baseline until 1980. This corresponds to the big decline in SAT verbal scores, but who knows what this all means.
Anyway, it's more food for thought as to whether graduation rates really correspond to improved academic achievement.
Remember, Downes is a Canadian. This doesn't explain how he got to be an expert on all matters related to education in the USA, but he does have a point about secondary school graduation rates in Canada. Statistics Canada confirms that the graduation rate is improved, most noticeably in the Atlantic provinces (where Downes is located).
Canada has always had a much lower college attendance rate than the USA. It is up but is nowhere near the USA rate which is around 50%.
However there is no data to show that graduates today are as well-prepared as they were 50 years ago, nor data to show the reverse. No national tests are conducted in Canada and most provinces do not have high school standardized tests.
Ontario, whose graduation rate has been flat, recently dumbed down its curriculum and graduation requirements in an effort to improve the rate. The results are not yet apparent.
Here's an indicator to consider: What % of recent high school graduates drop out of community college in their first year? About 50%.
The ACT folks claim that about 50% of first year community college students (all high school graduates) are unable to read at the college level.
So as a very rough rule of thumb -- only about 50% of high school graduates deserve their diplomas.
There is a constant in NZ educational debates - that people fret over kids leaving school without having earning a qualification, rather than over what the kids did learn at school. (In NZ there is no graduation from high school, but there are national qualifications that of various forms that you start earning at about 15/16 years old, and these are used for the purposes of gaining entry into tertiary education - eg to gain entry into medical school you need A Bursary results in Maths, Physics and Chemistry).
So we had a major revamp of the educational qualifications system to make it easier for kids to earn credits. There may be some behavioural theory in there, that if kids can earn credits more easily, they'll earn more of them. But the general outline of the debate was a focus on paper qualifications, not improving learning.
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