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Graduation rates

According to one study, a little more than half of HISD’s high school freshmen ultimately graduate.

Despite dozens of commencement ceremonies planned for the next two weeks, only 58.5 percent of Houston-area students who should be graduating will be earning diplomas this spring, community advocates said today.

Robert Sanborn, president and CEO of Children at Risk, announced on the steps of Houston City Hall this morning that his group commissioned the Texas Education Agency to conduct a study of six-year graduation rates. They learned that that 53 percent of the students who begin as ninth-graders in the Houston Independent School District had not graduated from any Texas high school in six years.

“We feel there is a real crisis, a crisis of graduation,” Sanborn said, pointing out the link between poverty and education levels. “We really don’t think the TEA and the school districts are being honest with the public.”

Sanborn said HISD estimates it graduates as many as 77 percent of its students within four years. That number is based on faulty data that doesn’t count as dropouts students who claim they’re going to be home schooled, attend private school or move out of state or country.

Sanborn said the first step in fixing high schools is admitting the severity of the problem. He called for the state Legislature, the TEA and individual school districts to become more transparent and use the graduation rate calculation formula Children at Risk used in this study.

Karen Garza, HISD’s chief academic officer, said the district certainly sees dropouts as an important problem that they are working to address. She questioned whether the Children at Risk numbers fail to consider how mobile the population of this urban school district is by excluding students who may start here but graduated in Oklahoma or Mexico or anywhere outside of Texas.

“We acknowledge this is a major issue. We’ve got to get better at keeping kids in school,” Garza said. “We want solutions. We offer more and more options, things like flexible hours and on-line courses.”

But, Garza said, HISD uses the formula prescribed by the TEA and she doesn’t see the Children at Risk calculation as being any more reliable.

I don’t know which way of calculating the “true” graduation rate is superior. I’m not sure it matters that much – whichever method you choose, you can at least tell if it’s getting better or worse over time. The NCAA manages to keep track of graduation rates at its member institutions, so this can’t be rocket science. Pick a method and stick with it – let’s not lose the forest for the trees.

Council Member and Mayoral candidate Peter Brown comments on the Children at Risk study. I’m still a bit amazed at how education has become an issue in this race, and I’m still not sure what role the Mayor should be playing in Houston’s public education; it’s not clear to me how much of a role the Mayor could play without legislative action, anyway. That said, I’m always glad to see public education be the topic of conversation, at least among people who care about its success. Maybe just by keeping the spotlight on it, we can have a positive effect.

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One Comment

  1. Kent from Waco says:

    Sanborn said HISD estimates it graduates as many as 77 percent of its students within four years. That number is based on faulty data that doesn’t count as dropouts students who claim they’re going to be home schooled, attend private school or move out of state or country.

    This is very true. Although it is quite difficult to actually calculate true dropout rates. I teach HS science and have on average about 110 students each year. During the course of the school year I probably see at least 10-15 of them withdraw. Some are moving to new cities with their parents. Others are moving on to private schools or alternative schools of some sort. One or two usually gets locked up or expelled. And the rest are usually labeled as “withdrawn for homeschooling.” Yeah right. Ran into one of my “withdrawn for homeschooling” students the other day at the local Discount Tire Shop where he was installing tires. Asked him how the home schooling was going and he said “you’re looking at it” with a laugh. Told me he had to help his mom with the rent and make the payments on his truck and that wasn’t happening when he was in school. So it goes.

    Drop-out rates and graduation rates are two different things and shouldn’t be confused or compared. There are a whole lot of reasons why students don’t graduate from a particular school. Most of them are legitimate and range from moving to a new city to simply failing TAKS. To me a drop-out is someone who voluntarily leaves HS and chooses not to continue with their education. Determining a true drop-out rate for a particular school would require a lot of follow-up detective work that schools don’t have the staff or ability to do.