Monday, March 29, 2010

Texas Governor Candidates Spar over Graduation Rates

Isn’t it enlightening to know that, according to Texas Governor Rick Perry, not only is Texas leading the nation in math achievement in its public school system, the graduation rate is improving.

All I can say is that Governor Perry needs to spend more time observing what is happening in schools across the state. More time than just attending a bill signing ceremony in a high school library so that little girls can distribute religious tracts to their classmates.

Because the figures that Governor Perry is relying on, the figures brewed up by his own Texas Education Agency, are wildly inaccurate. The truth is, the TEA has no idea how many students are dropping out every year.

This is because their system of data collection is flawed, and there is little incentive among schools and districts to report the correct figures, even if they had a good way to collect that data.

According to this site which claims to quote TEA data Texas’ annual dropout rate declined from 2.7% in the 2007-2007 school year to 2.2% in the 2007-2008 school year.

That doesn’t even match up with the July 2009 TEA document (PDF file) which reports that statewide across all sub-populations, the dropout rate in Texas is 10.5%.

But consider just these two things: how does the TEA gather this data, and are they counting everyone?

First, where does the TEA get their data? From the reporting districts, that’s how. And how are school and district accountability ratings based, in part? On dropout rates.

So it is not even in a school‘s or a district’s own self-interest to report accurate (and higher) dropout rates. So why bend over backwards to count even suspected dropouts?

Second, how do you know that a student has dropped out? Districts don’t compare notes, you know. When a student moves out of state, how does the school or the district gather that data? Simply this way: By asking them when the leave school if they are dropping out.

Sometimes kids lie. Sometimes their parents lie.

And here in Texas, which shares a border with Mexico, here in Texas which educates the sons and daughters of migrant workers constantly crossing the border to live in Mexico part of the year, kids leave school all of the time.

Sometimes they go to school in Mexico, most times not.

But this is the bill of goods that Rick Perry and the TEA are selling us.

Here is a better way to get an estimate of the dropout rate in Texas. Find out how many Texas citizens that attend school in Texas or elsewhere have a regular high school diploma. It’s not that tough.

When you do this, you don’t get annual results, but you get a good idea how Texas is doing vis-à-vis the education of its citizens.

When you do this you get the data that illustrates the crisis that exists in Texas’s dropout rates. A full 65% of all students in Texas have a regular high school diploma. Some eventually go on and get their GED but these numbers are very low.

So when the Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Bill White spars with Rick Perry over these facts and figures, you come to the general conclusions that figures lie and liars figure.

Quoting Bill White at a meeting of the Association of Texas Professional Educators:

“Too many children are not graduating from high school, and state leaders have been downplaying that problem rather than treating it as the emergency it is. The solution to the dropout rate is not to lie about it. We need to be realistic. We don't have room for lost kids in our system.”

Lying about dropout rates serves no one. High school dropouts don’t earn as much as high school graduates let alone college graduates. They don’t buy as much, either. They don’t pay as much in taxes.

So Rick Perry is keeping up the illusion that the system is just fine the way it is. Hiding his head in the sand as Texas citizens become poorer and more ignorant. Lies and ignorance will surely lead the state down a path where we will one day reap the whirlwind.

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