Bernard Gassaway is a former New York City public schools teacher, principal, and superintendent of alternative schools and programs of more than two decades. So he knows from where he speaks. In the Aug. 29 issue of EdWeek Gassaway shines a light ("Public School Officials Are Artificially Inflating Graduation Rates. I've Seen It Myself") on the way school officials have used various tricks to juke the stats on graduation rates.
This is nothing new of course. Some of you will harken back to the so-called Texas Miracle, one of the great school reform frauds of all time, engineered by then Texas Gov. George W. Bush and his school chief Rod Paige. Together, they rode the myth of zero dropouts all the way to the White House.As a direct result of a public thirst for schools to show progress, boards of education pressure superintendents, superintendents squeeze principals, principals ride teachers, and teachers stress students. The ultimate measure of progress for schools nationwide is high school graduation rates.Public school officials use a variety of schemes to give the appearance of progress.
Here in Chicago, where the mayor runs the schools and his political success depends in large part on showing miraculous gains in standardized test schools and grad rate bumps, there a long history of juking the stats. In 2015, CPS was forced to lower four years of inflated high school graduation rates to account for a "higher-than-advertised" dropout rate, another blow to a district beset by financial and professional turmoil. The accuracy of the district's numbers had been called into question in a report by CPS' inspector general. But CPS officials did not announce the revised graduation rates until months after Mayor Rahm Emanuel won re-election.
Gassaway brings us up to date on the stats-juking process in New York City where incremental bumps in grad rates have been induced through the misuse of credit recovery, virtual learning, or reclassifying students with disabilities to lower the graduation standards bar.
But the real kicker comes next. It's all about getting rid of low-scoring or other problem students as a way to produce statistical gains in measurable student achievement.
...when education officials cannot use any of the aforementioned tactics to get struggling students through high school, they transfer or push out students who are off-track for graduation—dropping the dead weight that is dragging down graduation statistics. Pushing students out is the most efficient way to increase a school's graduation rate. Principals transfer overage and under-credited students to alternative schools.
He could well have included the statistical impact produced by the mass out-migration of poor, African-American and their families from cities like Chicago in recent years. As urban public school populations shrink, and the poorest kids leave, schools in the black community are shuttered and resources are redirected towards selective-enrollment schools and charters, average test scores and graduation rates tend to rise.
Gassaway's expose may ring truest for those educators in urban districts who have toiled so long and hard, without adequate resources or support, to bring about academic success for students most at risk for dropping out, only to hear politicians like Rahm taking credit for supposed test score and grad rate gains.
This is not to say that some of those gains aren't real. But the mayor's boasting about rising grad rates at CPS makes no sense unless he can point to some dramatic changes, either in the classroom (beyond the tracking of freshman students) or in the community that would keep kids from dropping out. So far neither he nor CEO Claypool have. Which leads me to believe that it's more about the whitenizing of the city.
My last point on this, which I've made several times this week is: If the mayor really believed his own claims about dramatic improvements at CPS under his leadership, why would he be supporting school vouchers as an "escape route" from "failing schools"?