"For All Children" By William L. Bainbridge and Steven M. Sundre. Education News.org. March 2003.

from

The Internet’s Leading Source of EducationNews

For All Children


by William L. Bainbridge and Steven M. Sundre
Are regular contributors to EducationNews
The praise being showered by many partisans on the so-called “ Texas Education Model” may not only be undeserved, but could be harmful to the very fabric of our system of free public education. Throughout the country leaders are being encouraged to follow the Lone Star State’s example in demonstrating “great strides in student learning.” School data from Texas in the years President George W. Bush was Governor and Secretary of Education Roderick Paige was Superintendent of the Houston Independent School District (HISD), however, reveal an alarming trend.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
For All Children
by William L. Bainbridge and Steven M. Sundre
Are regular contributors to EducationNews

The praise being showered by many partisans on the so-called “ Texas Education Model” may not only be undeserved, but could be harmful to the very fabric of our system of free public education. Throughout the country leaders are being encouraged to follow the Lone Star State’s example in demonstrating “great strides in student learning.” School data from Texas in the years President George W. Bush was Governor and Secretary of Education Roderick Paige was Superintendent of the Houston Independent School District (HISD), however, reveal an alarming trend.

A complex mathematical game in Texas has disguised the school student dropout rate in a manner that even the best actuary could not explain. The bold and startling fact is that, according to the state education agency’s own records, in school year 1998-1999 there were 18,221 seventh graders in the Houston I.S.D. Two years later, there were 9,138 ninth graders in the same sprawling school system, an ugly attrition rate of 53%. Many other urban districts in the state have similarly staggering actual dropout rates, regardless of what percentage was officially reported.

While the administration and supporters try to take credit and spread the gospel of Texas to other states, their reporting of slight gains in test scores is an attempt to disguise a cancerous erosion of the common school concept.

The entrance of our Federal government in providing some funds for K-12 education was based on the promotion of public policy encouraging equal and universal access for “all children.” This important objective is increasingly under threat by significant actions (or inactions) that effectively remove a large number of children from our public schools. Some students are intimidated out by uniform standards of testing that condemn them to failure through unreasonable expectations in terms of time frame for mastering material. Others are encouraged to leave by school officials who do not want them bringing down scores.

The most potentially damaging of these actions is the dramatic increase in drop-out rates in some school systems, and the resulting sense that student learning is increasing as measured by standardized tests. The reality is that only the “non-dropouts,” the better-prepared students, make up the group being measured.

Horace Mann, "The Father of American Education,” championed the cause of making public education available and equal for all, part of the birthright of every American child, to be for rich and poor alike. Mann felt that through education, poverty and crime would decline dramatically, as would violence and fraud. Mann saw access to schooling as an educational purpose truly common to all. 150 years after Mann's passing, we are still trying to establish the birthright he articulated.

In their efforts to offer a quality education to all, Texas data indicate measured improvements have been made for some children. However, the significant-and disturbing-contradiction of these figures must also be noted. These figures do not include the more than half of enrolled students who make up the dropout rate in districts like HISD.

Just before the 2000 Presidential election, several groups, including the Rand Corporation, released studies calling into question the Texas dropout numbers. This was not the first time the veracity of Texas’ reporting had come into question. The dropout-rates section of the state's accountability system had already faced scrutiny and criticism from multiple sources. The Director of the Upward Bound program at the University of Texas at El Paso, Sandra Braham, had questioned the state's numbers. The Austin-American Statesman editorialized "Do The Math," stating the dropout rate was "buried in statistical games." The El Paso Times ran a headline that read "State Undercounts Dropouts."

Few in the general public seemed to understand the gravity of this accusation. The popular 1989 movie Lean On Me was based on the true story of Joe Clark, the former principal of Eastside High School in Patterson, New Jersey. Shortly after his arrival at the school, Clark called all of the “bad apples and poor performers” up onto the stage and expelled them with force. Few questioned what happened to these problem students.

Interviews with school administrators who are also students in graduate courses in school leadership in Texas suggested the severity of the dropout and the undercounting problems there. They spoke of the tremendous pressure they were under to disguise dropouts in novel and clever ways. They talked of fudging records so that dropouts would appear to be students who transferred to other schools. They said they were told not to count students who were transferred to "alternative education," even if they knew these children would never show up.

The actual effects of these dropout rates, however, are not easily disguised by semantics or calculation procedures. Since a high school diploma, at a minimum, is required for virtually all jobs that pay a living wage, it is not surprising that a number of these students are either unemployed or resort to crime. Neglected by the public education system, deprived the common school Mann worked to implement, these students become the burden of society, whether it is through the payment of welfare and unemployment or by subsidizing their stays in the justice and prison systems.

As public policy proposals are brought forward to “reform “ our schools we need to be vigilant in looking at all of the data.
----------------------------------------------------

Dr. William L. Bainbridge and Dr. Steven M. Sundre are principals of SchoolMatch, a Columbus, Ohio, based educational research, data and auditing firm and Distinguished Research Professors at The University of Dayton.