April 18, 2009

Research blog started

For those who want to walk into the weeds with me on a new research project, feel free to follow my new research blog hosted at USF. Dorn's dangerously public research blog has the subtitle "conducting research without a net," and I am likely to fail in public view. [Update 4/20/09: the blog server's database had a problem over the weekend, but it's fixed this morning. I swear, my entry did not break the internets.] See today's entry for an an example of a "duh, this is why you don't look at your project at 9:30 pm" story. That's not quite true: looking at the project at 9:30 on Saturday showed me something I didn't pick up the last time I worked on the data at a perfectly sane time. But that's what being a tenured faculty member is supposed to allow and even encourage: taking greater risks either in terms of potential failure or the time required for a project.

For those who are curious about the background for this project, we currently don't have a good way to translate administrative reports of enrollment by grade into a trustworthy measures of graduation. Chris Swanson's work doesn't count without considerable assumptions, but that's not a shame at all, since no one else's does with the exception of measures adjusted for interstate migration (such as Rob Warren's), and that's not feasible except with states and other large population units. Longitudinal measures such as the NGA and federal regulatory graduation statistics will go a long way to fixing this, but there will continue to be an important need to be able to work with administrative data. And it's an interesting intellectual puzzle.

In my spare time in the past few years I've been trying an analytical approach using whatever meager skills I have in formal demography. There are limits to that, and I've decided to try a different approach, simulating a range of conditions of potential high schools and looking at relationships that way. This'll start with the simplest approach, a hypothetical world where the student population at schools never change, each ninth-grade cohort has identical experiences, and no one transfers in or out. If I can look at that artificial world, I might be able to relax those assumptions one at a time.

But I need to be able to generate data for that world that is plausible, as opposed to something I could generate by my imagination. So I'm playing around with data from the National Longitudinal Sample of Youth cohort beginning in 1979 to have a set of nationally-sampled data from real, historical adolescents with a year-by-year longitudinal record of school attendance and high school graduation. From that, I'll generate a set of synthetic (or Monte Carlo/simulated) cohorts with a range of grade retention and graduation. Consider it a pilot, or proof-of-concept, or just playing around.

If your spectator sport of choice is not baseball or opera, follow the new blog. As I've said, I'm as likely to fall flat on my face as not.

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Tags: data, graduation measures, statistics
Posted in Education policy on April 18, 2009 10:21 PM |