Stop the Insanity

The New York Times published a bit of an expose yesterday (States’ Data Obscure How Few Finish High School) on the fact that many states fudge their graduation rates (i.e., nudge them up significantly higher than they actually are) in order to avoid sanctions from the federal government (which are doled out under No Child Left Behind). Many states actually have two different graduate rates: one they calculate internally and one they send along to the federal government (and you can guess which one is higher).

In Mississippi, the official graduation rate (as reported to the government) is 87%, while, in reality, it’s more like 63%.

But it’s not just the more rural, low-performing states that are stooping to new lows. It’s also states like California: 67% versus 83%.

The problem is due, in part, to the fact that the government gives states the freedom to determine how they want to calculate their graduate rates. The wily New Mexico decided to base theirs on the number of 12th graders who enrolled at the start of the school year, versus the number who graduated at the end of that year. Brilliant! Let’s ignore anyone who drops out before 12th grade…

States also get to set their own goals around increasing graduation rates. California, who is apparently very invested in improving the opportunities and life choices for their students, set their yearly growth goal at one-tenth of 1 percent.

What a farce!

Unfortunately, it’s not very comical. Something like 30% of the population doesn’t even have the chance to live the American Dream. While I have many problems with NCLB, I fundamentally believe in the idea that no child should slip through the cracks. I believe in setting ambitious, rigorous goals for our nation’s kids.

But something has to be done about the states’ charades. They aren’t just trying to pull the wool over our eyes with graduation rates; they also do it with proficiency rates. For the most part, the only improvement we’re seeing in the proficiency levels of our students is on the states’ own exams. Puh-lease!

How are we going to stop the insanity? To me, the obvious answer (sit down if you’re a huge federalist) is to create national standards with corresponding national assessments. According to the USA today, more than 8 million people moved across state lines in 2006. Doesn’t it make sense to standardize learning expectations for our nation’s youth, given the permeable membrane between the states?


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