For more than a century the department of education has collected data on the number of high-school diplomas awarded each year.
By this measure, high-school graduation rates have soared dramatically since the late 1800s.
Instead, the National Education Goals Panel chose an alternative measure that confuses more than it clarifies, The alternative way of estimating high-school graduation rates uses the Current Population Survey of some 50,000 households.
The difference lies mainly in the increasing share of students deemed high-school graduates by the Current Population Survey who are in fact taking the GED instead of finishing high school with a regular degree.
The state of Michigan rejected the use of minimum-competency exams, largely because it wanted the state's high-school test to reflect more challenging learning goals.
If the awards were based instead on, say, high-school grades, many students would respond by choosing easy courses where an A is guaranteed.
There is also good news about Michigan's high-school graduation rate.
Before the introduction of the merit award, just 75 percent of public high-school juniors were taking the MEAP tests.
Indeed, about 31% of college entrants get no college credits at all, including over 52% of students with high-school grades of C or lower (Rosenbaum, 2001).
There has been a large increase in the need for strong high-school level skills--math, reading, and writing at a 9th grade level (Murnane & Levy, 1996).
Over 8% of work-bound high-school graduates obtain their jobs after high school primarily through help by their schools' teachers and counselors (Rosenbaum, 2001).
While college-educated reformers think that college is necessary to get good jobs, and they often urge that all high-school seniors should have the chance to become doctors and lawyers, these are not realistic options for all seniors, and they are not the only good jobs in society.