Numbers fascinate me. Actually, how researchers and demographers collect information and turn that information into numbers, specifically statistics, really fascinates me. That's because numbers can lie. Not the numbers themselves, but how people collect, compile, and represent the numbers can be misleading. Take for instance the idea of a dropout rate. In most districts, students are considered dropouts if they sign out of school. That means going into the office, signing paperwork, meeting with a counselor, etc. Many students simply don't do that. So, when I look at the statistics presented in The Public Education Primer I'm not surprised at the numbers, but I am skeptical about them.
It doesn't shock me that something like 79% of teachers are women. Nor does it surprise me that 90% of teachers overall are white. After all, research has shown that women have moved into professions that were traditionally considered to be the domains of men. But the reverse has not happened. Men who become kindergarten teachers are often looked at with suspicion. After all, why would they want to work with young children? The same goes for nursing. In the case of minority teachers, it's also an issue of access. Prior to the Civil Rights Movement, many college-educated minorities, particularly African American, were blocked from most careers, except for teaching. In fact, being a teachers was highly esteemed within the community. When schools were integrated, many highly qualified minority teachers were shut out because white teachers were moved into predominantly minority schools, but minority teachers were not moved into white schools.
Whenever I see statistics like these, I wonder what questions were asked, what data was collected (and more importantly, what data was made available), and how they will be used to develop policy (that is, the plan of action or arguments that drive institutional practices). After all, I can look at a statistic and conclude something completely different from someone else. I guess that's the heart of the matter, we need to learn how to critically read statistics and how they are interpreted.