Fact Check: Disputing the Dropout Rate

‘The high school drop-out rate is 50 percent’ in southeastern San Diego.

Statement: An SDNN story about Nativity Prep Academy by freelance writer Rebecca Chappell noted that in southeastern San Diego “the high school drop-out rate is 50 percent.”

Determination: Barely True

Analysis: Chappell based that dropout figure on what she was told by David Rivera, the founder of Nativity Prep Academy.

In an interview, Rivera said he got the 50 percent estimate from research he conducted in 2001 with several University of San Diego undergraduate and law students, law teachers and social workers. It examined dropout rates at high schools in the 92113 and part of the 92102 zip codes, he said.

But Rivera didn’t have a copy of his original research. Neither did the University of San Diego.

The statistic might be true, depending on how you account for dropouts, but it certainly doesn’t jive with the standard used by state officials. They put the average dropout rate for the handful of public high schools in southeastern San Diego between 15 and 17 percent.

There are legitimate reasons that dropout calculations can vary. Scholars argue over the best method. Some calculations look at how many freshmen graduated from the same high school four years later; the state discounts students who moved to other schools and only counts students as dropouts when they disappear entirely.

It’s often disputed whether the dropout rate should include students who get high school equivalent diplomas. (The state doesn’t count them as graduates or as dropouts, but puts them into a third category.) And Rivera said his study included private schools, which the state doesn’t follow.

Rivera also referred to a Manhattan Institute study that pegged high school graduation rates for San Diego’s black and Latino students around 50 percent and a more recent Parent Institute for Quality Education study that put the countywide dropout rate at 41 percent. But neither of those studies are specific to southeastern San Diego.

If you have a copy of the research that Rivera is referring to, please send it to us so that we may review it and update this Fact Check blog post. Until then, we’re stamping the statement as Barely True since SDNN stated it as fact, didn’t explain where it came from, it can’t be verified and falls so far afield of more current, commonly accepted estimates.

If you disagree with our determination or analysis, please express your thoughts in the comments section of this blog post. Explain your reasoning.

You can also e-mail new Fact Check suggestions to factcheck@voiceofsandiego.org. What claim should we explore next?

– EMILY ALPERT

 

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Summer Polacek

Summer Polacek

Summer is the Development Manager at Voice of San Diego. You can contact her at summer@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5667.

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