On Bladensburg Road along the border of Prince George’s County, Md., and Washington, D.C., a billboard reads, “57% of District of Columbia students drop out.” The billboard is large and imposing, with an orange backdrop and bold diagonal dashes on each side to mimic a road-hazard sign. Many would find the content of the sign to be consistent with the frequently cited report “The Urgency of Now: The Schott 50 State Report on Public Education and Black Males,” by the Schott Foundation, which states that Washington, D.C., has a graduation rate of 38 percent for black males.
To be blunt, the message on the billboard is a lie, and technically, the percentage of students who drop out has only a little to do with the percentage that graduates. Yes, this is counterintuitive, but I will explain more later.
The high school dropout rate in D.C. is less than 10 percent for all students, and 14 percent for black males (pdf). The Schott Foundation’s observation that the graduation rate for black males is 38 percent is accurate. However, since most people do not know the difference between the graduation rate and the dropout rate, the report is misrepresented far more than it is accurately presented. Anyone doing an analysis of demographic trends in the D.C. metro area understands that any measure of cohort graduation rates will be influenced by the outmigration of black people from the city core.
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