Playing with the school year apparently isn’t the only way schools are looking to game national rankings systems. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that Georgia’s high school graduation rate just fell from 81 percent to 67 percent in one year. The steep drop-off is explained by changes in federal rules for reporting dropouts. Under the old rules, schools were able to count students who left before graduation as “transfers” without having to check whether these students actually enrolled elsewhere after leaving. The new federal requirements no longer allow this practice, so Georgia’s dropout rate has gone from surprising success story to one of the worst in the nation:
“They spent more time trying to fix the numbers, than they did trying to fix the problem,” said Cathy Henson, an advocate for education reform and former state Board of Education chair. “My frustration is that if you’re giving people phony data, then they don’t understand the magnitude, the urgency of the problem.”
This looks like yet another cheap trick, unworthy of a responsible education administrator, as well as more proof, if more were needed, that we should not take these kinds of self-reported educational performance numbers at face value.The centralization of power and the growing federal role in elementary and secondary education has created system wide incentives for lying, cheating and hiding the truth. Schools and even states are gaming the system in ways that are breathtakingly dishonest and do grave disservice to the interest of students.Parents and community groups generally know what is going on in local schools better than remote administrators and bureaucrats who cluelessly process sketchy statistics. While this isn’t the answer to every school problem in the country, looking wherever possible to put authority back in the hands of those who understand the local situation best and who have the greatest stake in the success of the schools seems like a worthwhile idea.