Are Mike Morath and Dallas ISD's Home-Rule Backers Overstating How Terrible the Schools Are?

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Dallas ISD Trustee Mike Morath, who came forward yesterday to explain his role as the watchmaker who set into motion Support Our Public Schools, is Rain Man-like in his ability to spout off statistics. He -- and Mayor Mike Rawlings and the others behind the home-rule push -- have been dropping a lot of numbers recently, giving the general impression that DISD is an abject and irredeemable failure.

But Morath et al might be overstating things just a bit. DISD isn't Highland Park, but is it really as awful as they say?

The short answer is no. The Dallas Morning News' Matthew Haag does a solid job of picking apart one of SOPS' claims, that "Only 7% of DISD seniors graduate high school prepared to go to college." (In his weekend Q&A with the DMN, Morath puts the figure at 8.1 percent).

See also: Dallas ISD Trustees Are Skeptical of Shadowy Home-Rule District Push

As Haag goes on to explain, the exact percentage depends on whom you ask. The Texas Education Agency defines college readiness as a 24 composite score on the ACT or an 1,110 on the math and reading portions of the SAT; DISD's standard is a 21 on the ACT or 990 on the SAT. In 2012, 14.4 percent of graduating seniors met DISD's criteria, with 10.5 percent considered college-ready by the state.

By either measure Morath's number is inflated. A 10.5-percent college-readiness rate isn't good, but compared with other large Texas school districts with lots of impoverished students, it really isn't all that bad.

Then there's the broader question, of whether any meaningful assessment of "college readiness" can be based solely on the SAT and ACT. The staunchly anti-reform DISD Blog made that point last night. SAT scores are better indicators of family income and the ability to pay for test prep as they are of one's ability to succeed in post-secondary education.

When you look at the number of kids who enroll in college and go on to graduate, the picture gets somewhat rosier. According to data compiled by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, 37.7 percent of Pinkston's class of 2012 enrolled in a two-year or four-year Texas college. At Carter, it's 40.6 percent. Spruce is 30 percent. (Hillcrest comes in with a 46.9 percent.)

See also: The Arguments Against Dallas ISD's Home-Rule Charter Push Are All Pretty Terrible

Enrolling in college doesn't imply college-readiness, but state data for DISD suggest that the majority of those students (83 percent attending a public four-year school, 62 percent at two-year colleges) will enroll for a second year. Not all of those students get a degree, but many do. Of DISD's 2006 class, 18.3 percent had graduated from college by 2012.

These numbers are nothing to boast about, especially given that DISD's goal is to make all students college-ready. And it doesn't mean the school board isn't dysfunctional and in need of reform. But certainly with as sizable a war chest as SOPS has, they can at least come up with accurate statistics.

Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.

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