Stanford and Dropouts: “Perry Makes Galveston Disappear”

Jason Stanford wrote a BRILLIANT piece about Texas supposedly #4 in the nation graduation rates. This is journalist gold. In early January I conducted an analysis of the graduation data via a FOIA request. Clearly the Lone Star State is lying to the feds ala Atlanta and El Paso. Will the feds really allow Texas to tell such a bold faced lie to them? It remains to be seen. Here are snippets from his piece:

In his State of the State speech, Perry bragged that “our graduation rates are at an all-time high – the third highest in the nation – which represents a significant turnaround from just a few short years ago.”

Actually, Texas ranked fourth, behind Iowa, Vermont and Wisconsin, but quibbling over whether Perry can count to four ignores what a big step this is for “Governor Oops.” The real news here is that only three years ago Texas ranked 29th in graduation rate. Increasing the percentage of kids you move through high school from 75.4% to 86% is big news, no matter what the ranking.

How did he accomplish this marvelous feat? It’s very simple. Perry moved Texas from 29th to 4th in the country in graduation rate by making Galveston disappear.

Don’t worry, Galveston is still there. Hurricane Ike couldn’t kill Galveston, and to imagine that Perry could make the island’s 50,000 inhabitants disappear would ascribe to him far more skill than he’s ever shown in office. But that’s how many kids he makes disappear every year to boost his graduation rate.

It’s basic math. The way Texas used to calculate the dropout rate was by adding the 8th, 9thand 10th grades, dividing by three, and making that your denominator, and then using that to calculate what percentage of kids graduate four years later. That formula yielded an inconvenient truth that about a quarter to a third of Texas students never graduated, making Texas about average compared to the other states.

This changed not when Texas graduated more students but when we counted fewer dropouts. About 50,000 of them got erased from the books every year, or roughly the population of Galveston. When the Class of 2011 showed up for the 9th grade, there were 356,183 of them. But when it came time to calculate their graduation rate, the original class was now 319,588. What changed?

Dr. Julian Vasquez Heilig of the University of Texas didn’t believe the hype and asked for thedata. What the state revealed was a case of bureaucratic evil. Perry says, truthfully it turns out, that a thousand people a day move to Texas, but to believe that he’s slashed the dropout rate you’d have to accept that 10,000 kids a year moved back to Mexico, that 20,000 kids enrolled in out-of-state schools, and 15,000 students began home schooling. In other words, while everyone else is coming to Texas, our high school population seems to be leaving the state.

Don’t believe it? You’re not alone.

“That’s just ridiculous,” said Brian D. Ray, founder of the National Home Education Research Institute. “It doesn’t sound very believable.” When you can’t convince the home school people that they have 15,000 new customers, you’re probably cooking the books. “We call it dumping,” said Tim Lambert, president of the Texas Home School Coalition.

They tried this in El Paso. So many kids were convinced to drop out by school officials that people around town started calling them “los desaparecidos,” or the disappeared. Perry’s education department investigated in 2010 but cleared superintendant Lorenzo Garcia. The FBI looked into it, and now Garcia’s in federal prison.


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