More on 2019 Dropouts

The VDOE Web site has some Excel-friendly dropout data that are more granular than the more usual reports. In particular, these data include 4-year cohort dropout rates for both the economically disadvantaged (“ED”) students and their more affluent peers (“Not ED”).

First, some background:

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, the population of U.S. 18- through 24-year-olds not enrolled in school and without a high school diploma or General Educational Development, or GED, credential was 16.4 percent in 2009. Among 16- to 24-year-olds who were incarcerated during 2006-07, only 1 in 1,000 had a bachelor’s degree, while 6.3 percent were high school dropouts who didn’t have a GED. (Sum, Khatiwada, McLaughlin & Palma, 2009).

To start with the Virginia numbers, here are the 2019 division data, plotted as the ED dropout rate v. the Not ED rate (data are percentages).


Richmond, the gold square, is the “leader” here. The red diamonds are the peer jurisdictions, from the left Hampton, Newport News, and Norfolk. The blue diamond is the state average. Charles City is the green diamond at (0, 0) with no dropouts of either sort. Lynchburg is the purple diamond.

A handful of divisions (Halifax, King & Queen, West Point) are absent from this graph because VDOE reported no datum for one rate or the other (probably because of their suppression rules).

There is a curiosity here: We know that the Not ED students generally outperform their less affluent peers on the SOL tests. For example, see here. The state average dropout rates, (4.15 Not ED, 8.17 ED), are consistent with that. But the slope of the fitted line here is less than one, indicating that the divisions with larger Not ED dropout rates have relatively lower (i.e., better) ED rates. Indeed, at the intercept the least squares fitted ED dropout rate is higher than the 0% Not ED rate by 5.5%, but by 0.83 the two rates are equal and at higher Not ED dropout rates, the fitted average ED rates are lower than the Not ED.


Trophy Offer: I’ll give a #2 lead pencil as a prize to anybody who can offer a (testable) hypothesis that explains this phenomenon. Send your ideas to john{at}calaf{dot}org.

The data by school show one egregious datum (Fairfax County Adult High, with an 85.5 Not ED rate) and a scattering of merely awful numbers, half of them from Richmond (gold squares, again).


Note: A number of schools are absent here because of the suppression rule.

Perhaps it would be useful to shrink the axes to eliminate that Fairfax point.


Focusing on the Richmond schools, we see:


Or, in terms of a table:


Notice that, aside from the three selective schools, all but Alternative have lower (better) ED than Not ED dropout rates (albeit Alternative is “selective” in that it serves “students with academic, attendance, and behavior challenges”).

In the meantime, Marshall and TJ have double the state average Not ED rates and the other four have astronomical rates for both groups.

Back to the Ed. Week article quoted above:

A 2008 review of the research on preventing dropouts by the U.S. Department of Education also identifies key components of effective programs. Besides data-based, early-warning systems, these strategies include: creating more personalized learning environments for students; providing extra support and academic enrichment for struggling students; assigning adult advocates to students deemed to be at risk of dropping out; and providing rigorous and relevant instruction to engage students in learning.