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Rudy Moise, a Democrat running for Congress in South Florida, says his district "is going in the wrong direction."
He cites some troubling statistics on his campaign website:
"We're No. 2 in crime in the state. Unemployment is at 17 percent amongst minorities in my district. And we are losing our future with a staggering high school drop-out rate of almost 61 percent."
The figure that caught our eye was the double-digit dropout rate.
Moise will face Democrat U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami Gardens, in the primary. (Wilson now represents Congressional District 17, but as a result of redistricting they will face off in District 24.)
First, some background about the race between Moise, a Haitian-American doctor, and Wilson, an African-American former state legislator.
The district largely lies in Miami-Dade County and includes a slice of Broward County. About 59 percent of the district is black or African-American. The Census also shows that within the district, about 11 percent were born in Haiti.
Haitian-Americans had hoped to win this seat in Congress in 2010 when U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek left to run unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate. But the Haitian community didn’t coalesce behind one candidate, and four Haitian-American candidates ran in a crowded primary, with Moise earning the most votes among the Haitian candidates.
Moise’s 2012 bid drew attention in April when Haitian president Michel Martelly urged Haitian-Americans living in the district to vote for Moise.
Moise’s claim about dropout rates doesn’t mention Wilson, a former Miami-Dade school board member and principal who founded a dropout prevention program about 20 years ago.
Moise points to report on black males
When we asked Moise’s campaign for evidence, they pointed us to a report by the Schott Foundation about black males and education for 2007-2008. The Florida report shows graduation rates for black males by county and state: 27 percent in Miami-Dade, 39 percent in Broward and 37 percent in Florida.
Moise’s campaign took those rates and subtracted from 100 and got the "almost 61 percent" dropout rate. That works on pure math, though some educational experts say the dropout rate isn’t simply the inverse of the graduation rate.
More significantly, the number only counts the dropout rates for black males compared to white males. So that rate leaves out other students, including females.
PolitiFact examined the Schott report for a previous claim by state Rep. Stephen Wise, R-Jacksonville, about the gap in graduation rates between black and white boys. Michael Holzman, a research consultant for the Schott Foundation, told the Tampa Bay Times he simply divided the number of standard diplomas awarded in 2008 by the number of students who entered high school four years earlier. The calculation does not include people who obtained a GED.
Miami-Dade had the seventh-lowest graduation rate among the 59 districts examined while Pinellas, Palm Beach and Duval fared worse.
Pinellas officials criticized the Schott report, saying that the formula it used was oversimplified, and, among other shortcomings, did not account for students who transferred away from the district.
Calculating dropout rates tougher than it sounds
There are other ways to calculate the dropout rate, as our colleagues at PolitiFact Texas and PolitiFact National have shown in previous fact-checks.
"A dropout rate seems like it should be the most intuitive thing in the world, but it’s not," said David Bills, a professor at the University of Iowa College of Education who specializes in comparative statistics. "There are almost as many ways of calculating state dropout rates as there are states."
One way to calculate it is to track individual students as they progress from freshman year of high school until graduation. This provides the most accurate data, but tracking students this way requires a lot of effort, so many school districts do not do it.
An alternative is to track the decline in enrollment between freshman year and graduation. This is known as the AFGR, or averaged freshman graduation rate. It's much easier to do -- and it's the most consistent "apples to apples" statistic across the 50 states -- but it is undermined by a greater risk of error.
That's because this method does not necessarily distinguish between students who actually dropped out and those who left for other reasons, such as moving to another state or graduating early or late.
Students who leave for other reasons can be excluded, but this is not always done, and not doing it tends to inflate the apparent number of dropouts. Standardization mandated by provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act has reduced these errors over time, but the statistics are not yet perfect, our experts said.
The real dropout rates
So what are the dropout rates for Miami-Dade and Broward?
One measure Florida uses is the National Governor’s Association, or NGA, which counts standard and special diplomas as graduates but excludes GEDs and students who transfer to adult education.
These graduation rates are based on a cohort: it is the percentage of students who graduate within four years of their first enrollment in 9th grade.
In Broward County in 2010-2011, about 76.5 percent graduated with a standard diploma within four years, 3.3 percent dropped out at anytime during the four years and 20.2 percent were listed as "not graduating." Students are listed as "not graduating" if they need a fifth year or received a certificate of completion, for example, which means they didn’t meet all the requirements for a diploma.
In Miami-Dade County, those figures were 77.7 percent graduating, 6.8 percent dropping out and 15.4 percent not graduating.
(Starting in 2010-11, all states had to start calculating the Federal Graduation Rate, which is the most restrictive measure. This rate counts as graduates only recipients of standard diplomas, not special diplomas for students with disabilities or GEDs. The federal graduation rate for Broward was 71.6 percent and in Miami-Dade it was 71.3 percent, but the data we saw didn’t show figures for dropouts or other in-between categories.)
Although the inverse of the graduation rate isn’t the dropout rate, those students who don’t get a diploma within four years are at risk of dropping out, said Thomas C. West, an affiliated researcher with the Everyone Graduates Center at John Hopkins University.
"They are not with their peers," he said. "Something has gone wrong."
Both Miami-Dade and Broward sent us data showing the single year dropout rate per high school in the school districts. The majority of the high schools had dropout rates in the single digits. But both had some schools with double-digit dropout rates -- typically these were smaller schools that served targeted populations such as special needs, teen parents or students who had left school in the past.
The Moise campaign responds
When we told Moise’s campaign about our conclusion, campaign manager Willis Howard said they would change the claim on the website to refer to black boys.
He said that it’s important to talk about graduation and dropout rates for black students because of the demographics of the district: "We are talking to predominantly black folks. … We’ve got to bring some light to we have an outrageous amount of dropouts in this district and South Florida and we’ve got to figure it out."
Moise said that his district has a "staggering high school dropout rate of almost 61 percent."
Moise points to a report about graduation rates from the Schott Foundation which provides some interesting data. But we have several problems with it as it relates to Moise’s dropout claim.
• Most critically, Moise's claim is based on a measurement for black males. We saw nothing in his comment to indicate he was talking about male dropouts only.
• Also, the number is based on 2007-2008 data even though data is available from 2010-2011.
• The number subtracts graduation rates from 100 percent and concludes that the rest are dropouts. This leaves out some categories such as students who need a fifth year to graduate.
• Finally, the data is for the entire Broward and Miami-Dade school districts, not the congressional district, which includes only portions of those districts
Moise didn’t explain these caveats on his campaign website when he made his claim. He erred by trying to boil down a complex area of data into a single phrase about dropout rates that requires far more explanation and more thorough data. We rank this claim False.
Campaign website for Congressional race, Accessed May 2, 2012
U.S. Census, American FactFinder Data about Congressional District 17, 2010
Miami Herald, "Haitian President Michel Martelly ignites controversy in Miami Congressional race," May 1, 2012
PolitiFact, "Explaining the graduation gap between African-American and white males," March 14, 2011
The Schott Foundation, The Scott State Report on black males in education, 2010
Tampa Bay Times, "Debate over graduation rates for black males in Pinellas County heats up," March 3, 2011
Florida Department of Education, Graduation and dropout rates data, 2010-11
Miami-Dade School District, Graduation and dropout rates data, 2010-11
Broward School District, Graduation and dropout rates data, 2010-11
Interview, Nadine Drew, spokeswoman for the Broward school district, May 2, 2012
Interview, John Schuster, spokesman for the Miami-Dade school district, May 2, 2012
Interview, Eric Parker, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, May 2, 2012
Interview, U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, May 2, 2012
Interview, Robert Bernstein, spokesman for the U.S. Census, May 2, 2012
Interview, Dave Thomas, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Education, May 2, 2012
Interview, Cheryl Etters, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Education, May 2, 2012
Interview, Willis Howard, campaign manager for candidate Rudy Moise, May 3, 2012
Interview, Michael Holzman, author of the Schott Report, May 4, 2012
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