Remember the backandforth between Gov. Rick Perry and Democratic challenger Bill White over Texas’ high school dropout rate? White contended it was as high as 30 percent, and Perry countered that it was as low as 10 percent, if you counted young people who took more than four years to complete high school and performed several other statistical gymnastics.
No two interested groups, it seems, count dropouts the same way, but just about every group, except the governor’s office, believes the rate is much higher than 10 percent.
Now, the newspaper, Education Week, has weighed in – not on the governor’s race, but on the dropout rate. It has been tracking dropout rates across the country for years and has just released its most recent calculations – the graduation profile for the class of 2007.
According to Education Week, the graduation rate for Texas that year was 65.1 percent. Some 34.9 percent of the students who began ninth grade four years earlier didn’t cross the finish line, at least on time. The national graduation rate that year was 68.8 percent. Texas tied with Hawaii for 38th, both just behind Alaska.
Over the previous 10 years, the Texas graduation rate had gradually risen from 59.3 percent in 1997.
As they did nationally, the graduation rates for Hispanics and African Americans lagged behind the statewide total. The 2007 graduation rate for Hispanics in Texas was 55.6 percent, virtually identical to their national average of 55.5 percent. The graduation rate for black students in Texas was 55.3 percent, slightly higher than the 53.7 percent for that group nationally.
That means about 45 percent of Hispanic and black students in Texas, almost half, didn’t graduate within four years.
In other findings, the Education Week study, entitled “Diplomas Count,” identified two school districts in Texas – Dallas and Houston ISDs – as among the 25 “dropout epicenters” producing onefifth of all the dropouts in the country.
The study used a “Cumulative Promotion Index” to calculate graduation rates. It measured how many students were promoted during each year of high school.
Nationally, 2007 graduation rates ranged from a high of 83.3 percent in New Jersey to a low of 41.8 percent in Nevada.
The study estimated that 1.3 million students nationwide – including 135,000 in Texas – failed to graduate on time with the class of 2010. That represented a loss of 7,200 students from the U.S. graduation pipeline every school day, including 751 dropouts each school day in Texas.
I think just about everyone with more than a passing interest in this subject, except maybe Gov. Perry, realizes Texas has a serious dropout problem. Now, it is time – past time – for officeholders and candidates to start promoting some realistic, honest solutions. Merely debating the numbers isn’t going to make the problem disappear.