This morning, national education researchers are confabbing at Rice University for a conference titled "The Texas Dropout Crisis and our Children — A Conference on Graduation Rates, Causes, and Policy Solutions." Dropout crisis? How's that again? The Texas Education Agency says 84.2 percent of all students in Texas high schools wind up with their diplomas; in Dallas, the TEA puts that number at 81 percent. It ain't perfect, but it could be worse.
Actually, says Chris Swanson in a new study called "High School Graduation in Texas: Independent Research to Understand and Combat the Graduation Crisis," it is much worse. Swanson, the director of the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center, writes in the study that according to EPERC's research, only 66.8 percent of all Texas high school students graduate. Which is an estimable drop--but not as steep as the decline closer to home. Swanson says not even half of all Dallas high school seniors graduate--46.3 percent, to be precise, a figure with which the TEA takes issue (ya think?) but one behind which Swanson stands firm. "Underneath the picture presented by the [Texas Education Agency] there are some much more sobering and chilling numbers and some gaps that aren't getting the attention they need," he tells the San Antonio Express-News.
According to the report, more than 120,000 students in Texas failed to graduate in May--and most were minorties. "To put this crisis in perspective," says the report, "the number of non-graduates is about double the combned number of students entering 9th grade in the state's seventh largest school districts." And the reason for the disparity between the study's numbers and those provided by the TEA has do with the state's underreporting the number of students who drop out each year. That's also the conclusion reached by Dan Losen of the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University, who has researched and written about dropouts for years and will present his research about Texas today at the Rice summit.
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"The lesson for Texas is that it doesn't matter how good the data collection is," Losen tells the Associated Press in a story that ran today. "If you're not reporting in an accurate, transparent way, you wind up with very misleading information. That misleading info means that educators and policy-makers and the general public are going to make bad decisions about education reform or at least not very effective ones. It's a real tragedy."
Among those addressing the issue of how researchers are getting different--and more terrifying--numbers than the TEA this morning is Magnus Lofstrom from the University of Texas in Dallas, who will join Swanson on a morning panel. This afternoon, Renato De Los Santos, Dallas Regional Office Director of the LULAC National Educational Service Center, will join Losen on a panel called "The Dropout Problem: What Can Policymakers and Community Leaders Do?" Expect several more papers presented today to become available online in the next few days; we'll make them available when they do. --Robert Wilonsky
The Replacements, "Fuck School" (from the 1982 album Stink)