February 8, 2005

Directions, directions, ...

Okay, to reprise the burgeoning research on student net flows for my 2.5 readers ...

December 2003, I had one of these painful epiphanies that one could estimate dropping out effectively by looking at everything else in a demographic balancing equation: population starting point and ending point, entries into an age or grade (through birthday or promotion), exits out of an age or grade (through birthdays or promotion), and exits through graduation. A bit of adjustment for mobility and mortality through the students before the age of typical dropping out, and voila! you have a way of estimating dropping out (and graduation, incidentally) in a way that should be sensitive to year-to-year changes and not require longitudinal record-keeping.

First idea for application: look at school systems in states that provide promotion/retention data (necessary for grade-based estimates). I submitted grants to NIH and NSF in 2004, both of which were turned down with comments suggesting the projects were fundable if revised.

Second idea for application: historical records. I visited Harvard's education library, found a bunch of public school records with stats by age, and wrote a paper for the History of Education Society meeting last year. That led to the ...

Third idea for application: a huge set of age-grade tables produced yearly in Georgia by every school system from 1938-1968 (separated by race until the mid-1960s). This is a way to look at the John Rury argument about growing high-school enrollment and attainment for African-American southerners. The obvious question here is whether the change we can identify in that era was concentrated in city school systems or spread throughout the state. It's a fairly important question because the assumption by Rury is that it focuses on cities (as the places most likely to be under pressure to desegregate). When I was in Georgia in early January, I collected age-grade tables selectively from 6 districts around the state, and I could bring a digital camera and just take pictures of every such sheet.

Fourth idea for application: look again at contemporary records, except on a school-by-school basis. Florida's Department of Ed has sent me individual-level records for 1999-2000 and 2000-01 (without identifiers), noting all the relevant information to construct the school-specific statistics by age that don't rely on grade-level retention. That's sweet, and as soon as I have an exemption from the IRB, I'm delving into it, as it can lead to an effective reformulation of the grant proposals.

In the meantime, I ran across one more article—recent this time, as opposed the 1980s methods articles I have been relying on —showing how I can use age-grade tables to look at attainment in early elementary years. It's not tripping off my tongue at the moment, but it's clever and make sense to me.

I've never had a "methods" idea before, so the way this is expanding out in different directions is surprising. Now I just need the time to develop it!

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Posted in Research on February 8, 2005 11:30 PM |