[ProgressiveEd] NYTimes.com Article: The 'Zero Dropout' Miracle: Alas! Alack! A Texas Tall Tale

Carol Foresta [email protected]
Sat, 16 Aug 2003 08:34:24 -0700 (PDT)

Thank you Steve for sending us that article. It is an
important one. We all recognize the scenario from
Texas as one that was recently exposed in New York as
well. We have a dysfuntional educational system. The
standardized testing industry is pushing it to a
higher level of dysfunction. The question becomes, how
do we as progressive educators push back? For example,
I wonder if any of us are union activists? Can we
begin to work within the union so that it actually
takes stands that support alternative forms of
assessment? Can we push the union to support
progressive teachers, if not can we expose them for
their lack of support? Carol
--- [email protected] wrote:
> This article from NYTimes.com 
> has been sent to you by [email protected].
> Hi folks.
> So there are weapons of mass destruction in American
> education as well as in Iraq.  This article
> demonstrates better than anything that No Child's
> Behind is as big a sham as everything else the
> Bushies push on us..... from Baghdad to tax cuts, ad
> nauseum.
> Steve
> [email protected]
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> The 'Zero Dropout' Miracle: Alas! Alack! A Texas
> Tall Tale
> August 13, 2003
> ROBERT KIMBALL, an assistant principal at Sharpstown
> High
> School, sat smack in the middle of the "Texas
> miracle." His
> poor, mostly minority high school of 1,650 students
> had a
> freshman class of 1,000 that dwindled to fewer than
> 300
> students by senior year. And yet - and this is the
> miracle
> - not one dropout to report! 
> Nor was zero an unusual dropout rate in this school
> district that both President Bush and Secretary of
> Education Rod Paige have held up as the national
> showcase
> for accountability and the model for the federal No
> Child
> Left Behind law. Westside High here had 2,308
> students and
> no reported dropouts; Wheatley High 731 students, no
> dropouts. A dozen of the city's poorest schools
> reported
> dropout rates under 1 percent. 
> Now, Dr. Kimball has witnessed many amazing things
> in his
> 58 years. Before he was an educator, he spent 24
> years in
> the Army, fighting in Vietnam, rising to the rank of
> lieutenant colonel and touring the world. But never
> had he
> seen an urban high school with no dropouts.
> "Impossible,"
> he said. "Someone will get pregnant, go to jail, get
> killed." Elsewhere in the nation, urban high schools
> report
> dropout rates of 20 percent to 40 percent. 
> A miracle? "A fantasy land," said Dr. Kimball. "They
> want
> the data to look wonderful and exciting. They don't
> tell
> you how to do it; they just say, 'Do it.' " In
> February,
> with the help of Dr. Kimball, the local television
> station
> KHOU broke the news that Sharpstown High had
> falsified its
> dropout data. That led to a state audit of 16
> Houston
> schools, which found that of 5,500 teenagers
> surveyed who
> had left school, 3,000 should have been counted as
> dropouts
> but were not. Last week, the state appointed a
> monitor to
> oversee the district's data collection and
> downgraded 14
> audited schools to the state's lowest rating. 
> Not very miraculous sounding, but here is the
> intriguing
> question: How did it get to the point that veteran
> principals felt they could actually claim zero
> dropouts?
> "You need to understand the atmosphere in Houston,"
> Dr.
> Kimball said. "People are afraid. The superintendent
> has
> frequent meetings with principals. Before they go
> in, the
> principals are really, really scared. Panicky. They
> have to
> make their numbers." 
> Pressure? Some compare it to working under the old
> Soviet
> system of five-year plans. In January, just before
> the
> scandal broke, Abelardo Saavedra, deputy
> superintendent,
> unveiled Houston's latest mandates for the new year.
> "The
> districtwide student attendance rate will increase
> from
> 94.6 percent to 95 percent," he wrote. "The
> districtwide
> annual dropout rate will decrease from 1.5 percent
> to 1.3
> percent." 
> Dropouts are notoriously difficult to track,
> particularly
> at a heavily Latino school like Sharpstown, with
> immigrants
> going back and forth to Mexico. Dr. Kimball said
> that
> Sharpstown shared one truant officer with several
> schools.
> Even so, Houston officials would not allow
> principals to
> write that the whereabouts of a departed student
> were
> "unknown." Last fall, Margaret Stroud, deputy
> superintendent, sent a memorandum warning principals
> to
> "make sure that you do not have any students coded
> `99,'
> whereabouts unknown." Too many "unknowns," she
> wrote, could
> prompt a state audit - the last thing Houston
> leaders
> wanted. 
> A shortage of resources to track departing students?
> No
> "unknowns" allowed? What to do? "Make it up," Dr.
> Kimball
> said. "The principals who survive are the yes men." 
> As for those who fail to make their numbers, it is
> termination time, one of many innovations championed
> by Dr.
> Paige as superintendent here from 1994 to 2001. He
> got rid
> of tenure for principals and mandated that they sign
> one-year contracts that allowed dismissal "without
> cause"
> and without a hearing. 
> On the other hand, for principals who make their
> numbers,
> it is bonus time. Principals can earn a $5,000
> bonus,
> district administrators up to $20,000. At Sharpstown
> High
> alone, Dr. Kimball said, $75,000 in bonus money was
> issued
> last year, before the fictitious numbers were
> exposed. 
> Dr. Paige's spokesman, Dan Langan, referred dropout
> questions to Houston officials, but said that the
> secretary
> was proud of the accountability system he
> established here,
> that it got results and that principals freely
> signed those
> contracts. 
> Terry Abbott, a Houston district spokesman, agreed
> that
> both Dr. Paige and the current superintendent, Kaye
> Stripling, pressured principals to make district
> goals.
> "Secretary Paige said, and rightfully so, the public
> has a
> right to expect us to get this job done," Mr. Abbott
> said.
> The principals were not cowed, he said, declaring,
> "They
> thrive on it." Every administrator under Dr. Paige
> and Dr.
> Stripling, Mr. Abbott said, has understood "failure
> is not
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