December 25, 2005

Done and not done

Many of my friends, neighbors, and colleagues have been preparing (perhaps frantically) for either of the holidays today (and Merry Christmas and Happy Hannukah to those for whom it's relevant). And, from both popular culture and personal testimony, I gather that there is a certain point at which one says (or thinks), "It's not done, but it's as done as it's going to be for now."

The publication a few days ago of John Robert Warren's State-Level High School Completion Rates gave me a similar feeling as an editor, researcher, and observer of research. Last year, EPAA published Jing Miao and Walt Haney's High School Graduation Rates, which compared several methods for estimating high school graduation. Since then, Jay Greene has adjusted his method to account for population change with census data (though he should've acknowledged Rob Warren's work on this point, which has been available from Warren's web site at the University of Minnesota for a few years). And Warren polished his method, I think presented in a refereed journal for the first time in EPAA.

More below the jump.

(For what it's worth, getting Warren's article out was the easiest process I've had yet with an article with tables or figures: I make a template document available to authors when I accept a manuscript, and he took full advantage of that opportunity. So all I needed to do was ask him for slightly different versions of two figures, work a bit with the formatting of tables, and do a few search-and-replace commands for typographical reasons, and it was ready to go. Well, until the errata, at which point I would create an updated version. So the article is done and not done.)

The substantive research, however, will go on, and here is where I'm sure any author feels that "it's as done as it's going to be, for now." The renewed interest in measuring graduation comes from No Child Left Behind, which includes a graduation rate as a key measure, but without really defining it well. So in step academic entrepreneurs, with their suggestions (and with the additional motivation for some of judging reforms by graduation rates—Warren has a number of pieces that use his measure for other purposes, so he is done and not done).

Part of the problem with measuring graduation has been school officials' and statisticians' continued publication of data based on administrative dropout counts (an awful idea and something inherited from the first headline-level concerns over dropping out as such in the 1960s). The recent research has focused properly on measuring graduation instead, and I think Warren has a pretty good approach on measuring cohort graduation at the state level. By definition, it certainly is the latest approach.

But work will continue. I have my own ideas, focused on statistics reported by age rather than grade. You can see a partial draft of that approach, with the introduction of the central concept and one illustration. The real sticking point for all of us here is estimating migration at anything below the state level. Warren's approach is good at the state level, but things get gnarly very quickly at local levels, which is where NCLB's graduation rate becomes very important, and where we'd like to have a reasonable method. In individual school districts and schools, net migration rates can be high enough to make an unadjusted cohort or period measure highly inaccurate.

And, at the level of a journal, I'm also done and not done. Warren's piece is the last article for the year in Education Policy Analysis Archives, and this is roughly the end of the first year I've been editor. It's been an intriguing transition (full of things to learn about post-acceptance processes!), and I'm delighted to have ended with a piece in my own area of interest and that continues a small series that EPAA has published on it over the years. So the article is done and the field is not done.

For now, I'm headed out of town for a week, with little if any e-mail access, having just sent the first editor's draft of the first article for next year to its authors. It's provocative and continues the journal's history of using an electronic journal for things that a print journal could never pull off—in this case, publishing a 58-page article, turning it around from acceptance to publication on short order (compared to the post-acceptance process at many hardcopy journals), and publishing a set of appendices that's longer than the article and longer than many entire issues of hardcopy journals. But having polished the 58 pages of the article and done a once-through on the appendices, it's time for me to send my version to the authors with minor queries and head out of town, done and not done.

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Posted in EPAA on December 25, 2005 8:46 AM |