• by Roy L. Johnson, M.S. • IDRA Newsletter • October 2012 •
Attrition rates have continued their slow decline in Texas public high schools according to the latest annual attrition study by IDRA. The overall attrition rate declined from 29 percent in 2009-10 to 27 percent in 2010-11 and 26 percent in 2011-12. For the third time in the 27-year history of reporting trends in dropout and attrition rates in Texas public schools, this latest study shows that less than 30 percent of students were lost from public enrollment prior to graduation with a high school diploma.
In its inaugural study in 1986, IDRA found that the attrition rate was 33 percent. Over the last decade, attrition rates have been on a steady decline by one or two percentage points each year. Though this implies improvement in schools’ abilities to hold on to their students until they graduate, long-term trend assessments also suggest that it is not yet time to celebrate as the data show persistent gaps among racial and ethnic groups along with the fact that schools still are losing one out of every four students.
IDRA’s latest annual attrition study builds on a series of studies that track the number and percent of students in Texas who are lost from public school enrollment prior to graduation from high school. IDRA conducted the first comprehensive study of school dropouts in Texas, which was released in October 1986 (Cárdenas, et al., 1986).
In the most recent annual attrition study that examines school holding power in Texas public high schools, IDRA found that 26 percent of the freshman class of 2008-09 left school prior to graduating from a Texas public high school in the 2011-12 school year.
The current statewide attrition rate of 26 percent is seven percentage points lower than the initial rate of 33 percent found in IDRA’s landmark 1985-86 study. The attrition rate in Texas is 21 percent lower than the 1985-86 rate. For each racial and ethnic group, the study found that current attrition rates were lower than in the first study. However, the gaps between the attrition rates of White students and Hispanic students and of White and Black students are higher than 27 years ago. Between White students and Hispanic students, the attrition rate gap has increased from 18 percentage points in 1985-86 to 21 percentage points in 2011-12. The attrition rate gap between White students and Black students has doubled from 7 percentage points in 1985-86 to 14 percentage points in 2011-12.
The full study is available on IDRA’s web site at www.idra.org and includes methodology, historical statewide attrition rates and numbers of students lost to attrition categorized by race-ethnicity and by gender, a county-level data map, a county-level attrition rate table, trend data by county, and historical county-level numbers of students lost to attrition.
Key findings of the latest study include the following:
- The overall attrition rate declined from 33 percent in 1985-86 to 26 percent in 2011-12. (See Inforgraphic)
- The overall attrition rate was less than 30 percent in the last three study years: 29 percent in 2009-10, 27 percent in 2010-11, and 26 percent in 2011-12.
- About one out of every four students (26 percent) from the freshman class of 2008-09 left school prior to graduating with a high school diploma – meaning, Texas public schools still are failing to graduate one out of every four students.
- 103,140 students from the 2008-09 freshman class were lost from public high school enrollment in 2011-12 compared to 86,276 in 1985-86.
- From 1985-86 to 2011-12, attrition rates of Hispanic students declined by 22 percent (from 45 percent to 35 percent). During this same period, the attrition rates of Black students declined by 18 percent (from 34 percent to 28 percent). Attrition rates of White students declined by 48 percent (from 27 percent to 14 percent).
- The gap between the attrition rates of White students and Hispanic students and between White students and Black students are dramatically higher than 27 years ago. The attrition gap between White students and Hispanic students increased by 17 percent from 1985-86 to 2011-12, and the attrition gap between White students and Black students increased by 100 percent from 1985-86 to 2011-12.
- For the class of 2011-12, Hispanic students and Black students are about two times more likely to leave school without graduating than White students.
- Since 1986, Texas schools have lost a cumulative total of more than 3.2 million students from public high school enrollment prior to graduation.
- The attrition rates for males have been higher than those of females. In the class of 2011-12, males were 1.3 times more likely to leave school without graduating with a diploma than females.
- From 1985-86 to 2011-12, attrition rates of male students declined by 17 percent (from 35 percent to 29 percent) while the attrition rates of female students declined by 31 percent (from 32 percent to 22 percent).
A supplemental analysis using linear regression models predicts that at the current pace Texas will reach an attrition rate of zero in the year 2037. At this pace, the state will lose an additional 1.4 million to 3.5million students (Montes, 2012).
The trend in declining attrition rates for the state overall and for each racial and ethnic group is certainly good news. But the racial-ethnic gaps suggest that the celebration be postponed. IDRA and other researchers continue to point out that the school dropout problem is a significant education and economic issue for Texas and the nation. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University report that Texas is home to a significant number of low performing high schools where fewer than 60 percent of freshmen progress to their senior year (Balfanz & Legters, 2004). The Alliance for Excellent Education estimates that 135,100 Texas students in the class of 2010 dropped out of school and projects that cutting the number of dropouts in half would result in tremendous economic benefits to the state of Texas (2011a & 2011b).
Additional research is needed to address the reasons for the decline in overall attrition rates and the widening disparity in attrition rates between racial and ethnic groups. Communities must be part of the solution. As with our recent campaign on fair funding (Fair Funding Now!) wherein IDRA engaged communities on the disparities in education funding and funding cuts, communities must come together to review issues surrounding school dropouts, and we must take action for the benefit of children and the future of Texas.
IDRA has developed a number of products to guide communities and schools in improving school holding power in schools in Texas and across the nation. In the book, Courage to Connect: A Quality Schools Action Framework TM, IDRA shows how communities and schools can work together to strengthen school success in a number of areas, including graduation outcomes. The book’s web page (www.idra.org/couragetoconnect) provides excerpts, related podcasts and other resources. IDRA’s online OurSchool data portal helps community and school partners examine their school data and plan joint actions to improve school holding power. The portal can be accessed free of charge at www.idra.org/OurSchool. IDRA’s one-page Quality School Holding Power Checklist provides a set of criteria for assessing and selecting effective dropout prevention strategies.
Alliance for Excellent Education. Education and the Economy: Boosting Texas’s Economy by Improving High School Graduation Rates (Washington, D.C.: Alliance for Excellent Education: November 2011).
Alliance for Excellent Education, “The High Cost of High School Dropouts: What the Nation Pays for Inadequate High Schools,” Issue Brief (Washington, D.C.: Alliance for Excellent Education: November 2011).
Balfanz, R., & J. Bridgeland, M. Bruce J. Hornig Fox. Building a Grad Nation: Progress and Challenges in Ending the High School Dropout Epidemic (Washington, D.C.: Civic Enterprises, 2012).
Balfanz, R., & N. Legters. Locating the Dropout Crisis: Which High Schools Produce the Nation’s Dropouts? Where Are They Located? Who Attends Them? (Baltimore Md.: Johns Hopkins University, Center for Research on the Education of Students Placed At Risk, September 2004).
Cárdenas, J.A., & M. Robledo Montecel, J. Supik. Texas Dropout Survey Project: A Summary of Findings (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, 1986).
Johnson, R.L. Texas Public School Attrition Study, 2011-12: Attrition Rate Decline Appears Promising – Though High Schools are Still Losing One in Four Students (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, 2012).
Montes, F. Slow Declining Pace Keeps Zero Attrition Date at 2037, supplemental analysis published online only (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, October 2012).
Roy L. Johnson, M.S., is director of IDRA Support Services. Comments and questions may be directed to him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[©2012, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the October 2012 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]