Harris defends graduation rate

America’s Promise Alliance released a report titled “Cities in Crisis: A Special Analytic Report on High School Graduation,” on April 1.

In this report, Columbus City Schools (CCS) were ranked 46 out of the 50 major city urban school districts in the country to have a low graduation rate.

America’s Promise Alliance said their data shows CCS’s graduation rate is 40.9 percent, rather than the 72.9 percent graduation rate publicized by CCS.

Dr. Gene Harris, Superintendent of Columbus City Schools, said America’s Promise Alliance uses an “overly simplistic” method of calculating the graduation rate and is not a true reflection of the factors involved.

“The Alliance uses school district data on the total number of students in a high school’s ninth-grade class, and then revisits that same class each year until graduation. While this might seem at first glance to be an acceptable methodology, there does not appear to be any effort to track individual students through their high school career.” said Harris.

Harris said the state of Ohio’s method to calculate graduation rates tracks each student based on a student identifier number throughout the educational process, which gives a better picture of the district’s progress.

“Each student can be followed throughout his/her educational career, assuring that students who transfer between schools, between districts, or even leave Ohio are accounted for when reporting district graduation rates,” said Harris.

CCS Board President Dr. Terry Boyd said the data from America’s Promise Alliance does not reflect the improvements made in the CCS district.

“We’re not saying their method is wrong, we’re saying their method is different. We don’t think students who move outside the district should be counted in these numbers because they’re no longer in it.”

America’s Promise Alliance released this report in conjunction with a nationwide campaign, called the National Summit on America’s Silent Epidemic, whose goal is to reduce high school dropout rates and ensure students are adequately prepared for life after high school.

According to a news release from America’s Promise Alliance, 1.2 million high school students nationally drop out before graduation each year; 7,000 students drop out every school day or every 26 seconds.

America’s Promise Alliance Chair Alma J. Powell, wife of General Colin Powell, plans to bring together all the different components of communities related to this issue; from mayors and governors to business owners, and from school administrators and child advocates to students and parents. This group will work to form feasible action plans to combat the low graduation rates across the country.

“When more than one million students a year drop out of high school, it’s more than a problem, it’s a catastrophe,” said Powell. “Our economic and national security are at risk when we fail to educate the leaders and the workforce of the future.”

United States Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings vows to take administrative steps to ensure that all states are using the same formula to calculate school districts graduation and drop out rates.

“One reason that the high school dropout crisis is known as the “silent epidemic” is that the problem is frequently masked or minimized by inconsistent and opaque data reporting systems,” said Spellings.

Columbus City Schools Board of Education member Gary Baker said he was not sure that a uniform method of calculating graduation rates is the way to fix the issue.

“I think that it needs more study. I think that local control is always the best but whether or not there should be a national method, I just don’t know about that. There is already ample regulation of education -not to say that you should stick with what you’ve got because that’s what you’ve got, but this is a thing that one doesn’t do without extensive study and review,” said Baker.

Dr. Chris Swanson, Director of Editorial Projects in Education Research Center (EPE) said it is possible that the graduation rate would be higher for CCS if they took into account students transferring out of the district, moving or going to charter schools, but it is hard to tell because EPE does not have that information.

“Based on what I’ve seen, I don’t think the rate would change much. It may change the number a little bit but it’s not going to change it to 72.9 percent; at most we would be talking about a couple percentage points,” said Swanson.

Swanson does admit that the data in America’s Promise Alliances’ report is from the 2003-2004 school year and CCS could have improved since then.

“Anything’s possible; it takes a couple years before data is collected and published. In June, we’ll have the 2004 – 2005 graduation data. This data is all part of an ongoing project, the big report we do every year is called Diplomas Counted,” said Swanson.

The public can visit http://www.edweek.org/apps/maps/ and find out for themselves how their district compares to other cities across the country.

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