Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Current info/commentary on Dropouts in Texas

Click here to get a New CPPP Study that Examines Texas' Dropout Challenge

This report examines Texas' dropout issue. Among the report's findings:
If every 9th grader in Fall 2000 graduated from the Texas public school
system in Spring 2004, it would have cost Texas an additional $1.7 billion
over four years, just for the Class of 2004. At the same time, if every 16-19 year
old who is not in school and does not have a high school diploma simply graduated,
the state's combined earnings would increase by about $3 billion over four years. In
order to help you assess these economic consequences on your community, we
have compiled a supplemental county-by-county data spreadsheet.

Dropping Opportunities (below) just appeared in the Texas Observer.

As you may have heard, there's a special session going
on, and the elected types up at the Capitol continue
to fight about how to cut property taxes and pay for
public schools. We?ve heard a lot of talk the past few
weeks about tax rates, teacher pay raises, local
enrichment, school-funding equity, and the importance
of educating our future work force. Yet one of the
gloomiest and most widely misunderstood problems
facing our education system the number of kids
dropping out isn't getting much play.

Part of the problem is a lack of agreement on how many
kids are actually dropping out. According to official
state figures, we don't have much of a dropout
problem. The Texas Education Agency reports that only
0.9 percent of students in seventh through 12th grades
drop out of public school. No, that's not a misprint.
The high school dropout rate, the TEA maintains, is
3.9 percent. (Very few middle school students drop
out, which partly accounts for the watered-down 0.9

Back on planet Earth, any teacher or principal and
most public interest groups will tell you that the
dropout rate is much higher. Even TEA officials admit
some of their numbers can be misleading. Other groups
say the statewide dropout rate is between 20 and 40
percent. Texas ranked 43rd nationally in 2001 in the
percentage of teens dropping out of high school?a rate
one-third higher than the national average, according
to a report by the Austin nonprofit Center for Public
Policy Priorities.

TEA officials contend, in their defense, that they
have to report dropouts as defined by law. Instead of
harping on the high dropout rates, TEA officials often
point to the cheerier four-year graduation rate,
which, the agency says, was 84.6 percent in 2004. (To
arrive at this figure, officials don?t count students
getting high school equivalency certificates, students
who claim to transfer to another school, or students
who spend extra years in high school.) But even the
graduation rate is inaccurate, according to some
reports. The conservative Manhattan Institute recently
reported that only about 70 percent of Texas high
school students are graduating. Another recent report,
by the more progressive Economic Policy Institute, put
the graduation rate at about 80 percent. Minorities
are much less likely to graduate than white
students?the Manhattan Institute says about 50 percent
of blacks and Latinos graduate. Not surprisingly, the
TEA offers a rosier view on this one, too, contending
that the minority graduation rate is about 80 percent.

Don't expect much action on these issues out of the
special session. The lone proposal dealing with
dropouts was buried in the text of a bill recently
passed by the Senate. If it survives the legislative
process, the provision would allow schools to
establish stronger anti-dropout programs. The effort,
though relatively weak, has been the Legislature's
only real attempt in recent years to stem the number
of kids leaving school without a diploma.

In the Lege's defense, it's hard to enact a policy
solution when you don't really know how extensive the
problem is or what the causes are. As with most
problems, understanding is the first step. That won?t
happen until lawmakers focus on the issue and direct
the TEA to use an agreed-upon method that accurately
counts the number of students who drop out.

Nothing will improve unless we're straight with
ourselves about how many students are really dropping
out. No matter how much money we put into schools, we
can?t help kids who aren't there.

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