The Post this morning features a front page article that takes apart many of the claims of W’s Texas educational "miracle" of the 90’s. Much of this article covers material previously reported in Texas newspapers (and which I’ve ranted on before), but it is still amazing to read again. The focus is on the Houston Independent School District where W’s Secretary of Education Rod Paige served as Superintendent during the "miracle" years.
Among other amazing achievements, Paige reduced the dropout rate in Houston to less than 1% at most high schools. At Austin High School, the focus of this article, the rate went from 14.4% in the early 90’s to 0.3% in 2002. But the data studied by the Post reporter showed that Houston typically has about 13,500 eighth graders but fewer than 8000 students actually earn a high school diploma. Something doesn’t add up there.
Another "miracle" was the increase in passing rates on state standardized tests. For example, at Austin HS the number of 10th graders who passed the Texas math test went from 26% to 99% during Paige’s tenure. However, in 2001 Austin had 1160 students in 9th grade but only 281 in 10th. It seems that high school principals in Houston are allowed to exclude "weaker" students from the test results by holding students back a grade, something they "routinely" do.
These are only two examples of the arithmetic tricks used to pump up the statistics in Houston. But I doubt Houston and Texas will be alone in pulling these tricks. As federal legislation, such as No Child Left Behind, and state programs mushroom, the pressure will be on schools and districts to show big improvements in drop out rates and test scores very fast. There’s no doubt that public schools in this country need major changes and that we need to do much more to improve learning for every child. But expecting miracles in the space of less than one Presidential administration is asking for the kind of accounting magic used in Houston.