Wednesday, July 4, 2012



Dropout America: A Manufactured Crisis

Special Interest Group overstates US Dropout Rates and misrepresents African American Male Achievements with PSA’s

I have been challenged numerous times as of late while discussing the Black Male Dropout rate of 9.5% in 2010 unveiled in my latest film titled “HOODWINKED”.  Most recently at a rooftop media affair in New York, several television producers cited specifically an ad campaign that I am oh too familiar with. The PSA’s are a series of commercial spots with the tagline: “every 26 seconds in the U.S., a high School student drops out.” This headline was the summary retort and rebuff statement of the night in an attempt to counter the much lower dropout rates I discuss.
The first time I saw the PSA for the “26 second”  campaign was during the 2012 NBA All-Star game. LeBron James was featured in the commercial and reiterates firmly the statistic that “every 26 seconds a kid drops out of High School.”  I think there is still a pizza stain on my plasma TV from my initial response. Why such an exacerbated reaction to what most assume and have adopted as the narrative about the “Dropout Crisis in America?” you may ask. Two fold is my answer, which I will explain seriatim.
First the commercial had an African-American Male sitting on a bed (during the middle of the day) falling through his mattress into a series of shadowy settings, descending into the predictable, deleterious and “dark” outcomes faced by those who have chosen to leave high school prematurely. The problem I have with this narrative is that the societal construct around dropouts has made young Black Males the poster child of this “Crisis”.
A quick search of the Department of Education: National Center for Education High School Dropout and Completion rates reveals the following (racial) state of dropouts and the face (if any) that should have been highlighted in these types of PSA’s. According to the Department of Education, that face is  definitely not young Black Males.
From the NCES Trends in High School Dropouts and Completion Rates: (

  • Of the 373,000 High School Dropouts in 2009 (Event Dropout – students enrolled 2008/absent 2009)
    • 160,000 were White (Non-Hispanic)
    • 114,000 were Hispanic
    • 77,000   were Black
  • Of the 3,030,000 persons between ages 16-24 without a High School Diploma or GED and not enrolled in High School (Status Dropouts/Total U.S. Dropouts)
    • 1,188,000 were White (Non-Hispanic)
    • 1,199,000 were Hispanic
    •   508,000 were Black
    • in 2006, 2007 and 2008 Black Females status dropout rate surpassed that of  Black Males

The follow up question when I present these statistics usually goes like “well aren’t African American Males disproportionately dropping out as compared to other ethnicities (or Black Males have the highest incidence of dropping out.) And while that lens gives me great pause and nocturnal reflux the percentages from the DOE still do not justify Black Males being the face of the “Dropout Crisis.”
  • Of the 373,000 High School Dropouts in 2009 (Event Dropout – started 2008/absent 2009)
    • 2.4% of all Whites Dropped out in 2009
    • 5.8% of all Hispanics Dropped out in 2009
    • 4.8% of all Blacks  Dropped out in 2009
From my research, there is an absolute disconnect between what the data states and the imagery and information we receive from special interests and media around Black Male Achievement. Of particular concern; with the advocacy of my films being “the castigation of Black Identity”, I hope you can appreciate my reservation about how negative messaging and misinformation has consequential effects on the self-perception of African Americans. The devaluation of status coupled with skewed perceptions of normative outcomes for young Black Males lowers the bar of expectations and blurs the lens on a community that has long been burdened by stereotypes, misrepresentations and inaccurate social marginalization.
Second, expanding on the point of misrepresentations, I have a larger concern around the statistical claims in the “26 second” PSA’s underwritten by State Farm and researched by The Alliance for Excellent Education (AEE). A cursory look into the AEE website finds the statement that “Every year, more than 1 million students—that’s 7,000 every school day—do not graduate from high school on time.”
Did You catch that last line? THEY DON’T GRADUATE ON TIME: So if they do not graduate on time, one should assume they are dropping out of high school, correct? Absolutely not. Herein lies the quandary and the subtle innuendo that has distorted the public perception and over dramatized the national dropout discussion. From the AEE’s own methodology they state “ find the estimated number of students who did not graduate with the rest of their class. For the purpose of this analysis, the Alliance assumed these students to be dropouts from the Class of 2010” Remember the old adage about assuming…right?
Well I will leave you some closing bullet points of the AEE analysis of this “crisis” for you to research, digest and come to your own conclusions about the current state of High School Completions and Dropouts. With a concerted and well-informed populous, maybe next year we can curtail their attempt to interrupt my NBA all-Star game with another image distorting and data skewing PSA.
  • As reported by the Department of Education: National Center for Education Statistics ~ There is no data to support a claim that 1.3 million (AEE) students dropped out of High School in the calendar year 2010
    • The AEE took a longitudinal look at the four years of attendance for the class of 2010, found that 1.3 million did not graduate on time, assumed they were dropouts, and then left the analysis open for misinterpretation.
    • How the messaging is abbreviated, misinterpreted and finally misreported goes like this;
      • 1.3 million students did not graduate in four years or with their class
      • 1.3 million missing in the class of 2010
      • 1.3 million  dropouts in 2010 (flawed deduction)
      • that equals 7,000 dropouts per school day
      • that equals 1 dropout every 26 seconds
  • What the Dropout assumption in the AEE findings does not consider and leads to multiple errors in its conclusions are as follows:
    • Metropolitan Statistical Area and interstate  mobility of students between 9th and 12th grade. (students moving from one area to another during the four year period counts against graduation rates of the baseline school)
    • Grade Repetition Rates (students having to repeat a grade during the four year period counts against graduation rates).
Finally, take the Dropout Challenge yourself (from the film HOODWINKED, read the graphs and draw your own conclusions.

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