A dropout crisis in the Lone Star State

Posted on Monday 29 January 2007

Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote about the problems in Los Angeles high schools, where they’re facing drop-out rates of around 50%. The LA Times ran an enormous education special about the crisis, and while they noted that there are problems for urban school districts all across the country, no-one seemed over-worried about Texas’ schools. After all, this state reported an 84% graduation rate, and Polimom’s nearest urban district (Houston) was only losing roughly 1/4 of its high school students.

It looks like it’s time to climb off the pedestal in the Lone Star State, folks.

Texas has apparently been playing fast and loose with its rates, and according to several reports this morning, Texas schools are also facing a drop-out crisis. From theHouston Chronicle: [ update: link unavailable from the Chronicle now. Relinked to Texas Insider.org This story is evidently not available online anymore]

Researchers generally agree that Texas’ statewide dropout rate hovers around 33 percent, which is about 20 points higher than official statistics compiled by the Texas Education Agency.

The Houston Independent School District reported a 76 percent graduation rate for the class of 2005. The graduation rate is the percentage of freshmen who start high school and finish four years later.

HISD spokesman Terry Abbott has said the district follows state guidelines for reporting its rates, but district officials also have said that the percentage of students who wind up getting a diploma could be as low as 60 percent because some don’t even begin high school.

Polimom’s having heartburn right out of the gate. 20 points isn’t a rounding error, and worse yet, it seems our elected representatives already know about this.

State leaders and lawmakers for years have acknowledged the dropout problem, but critics complain that few resources have been invested to fix it.State leaders are aware of the high numbers but focus most of their attention on property tax cuts and other issues, Noriega and others said.

Of course they focus on tax cuts. This is Texas, after all.

Not only are Texas students dropping out of school like flies, the rates are much higher in urban districts, where (like L.A.) the rates meet, and even exceed, the 50% rate:

The dropout rate is highest for blacks, Hispanics and low-income students — currently about 60 percent, said Eileen Coppola, a researcher at Rice University’s Center for Education. “In our major urban districts, we can safely say that it’s 50 percent.”


Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst strongly disagrees with assertions that state leaders aren’t doing enough to reduce dropout rates.

But he agrees dropout rates in some urban and border school districts run as high as 60 percent.

“We have a huge problem,” he said.

Indeed. A huge problem.

Unfortunately, our system is not set up to address this at all — because to confront it will require comprehensive educational reform, all the way down to the foundational principles and goals.

And I’m sure we don’t have the will to do it. Nobody does.

    January 29, 2007 | 9:02 am

    After all, this state reported an 84% graduation rate, and Polimom’s nearest urban district (Houston) was only losing roughly 1/4 of its high school students.

    Yes, and as I recall this was the district with Sharpstown High School, where they had not a single dropout!

    Talk about fuzzy math…


    January 29, 2007 | 10:02 am

    [...] So how will we know when standards have declined so much that it’s finally time to do something? Would dropout rates exceeding 50% in urban areas be a warning sign, do you think? Or are state-wide rates of 1/3 worrisome, as is being reported today from Texas? (My post this morning on this here.) From the Houston Chronicle: “If you live in a city like Dallas or Houston, and half of your kids are not finishing high school, it’s a social crisis, because we know that those kids will likely live in poverty, be much more likely to go to jail, and they will have more health problems,” Coppola said. [...]

    January 29, 2007 | 12:19 pm

    Very simple solution to all of this. 1) Move all campuses, K-11, (12 is redundant) to newly constructed 12 month bording facilities far out in the countryside away from the urban areas. Ensure these facilities are escape proof and are modeled after Chinese Communist work camp type facilities complete with the lil’ red scarf and such. Let the kids out twice a year to return to their families for leave, once in the summer (summer vacation) and once in December for the Winter Solstice Celebration). 2) abandon the idea that everyone is going to college and include trade school facilities for those best suited to crafts, skills, & trades. 3) Fire the teachers, abolish the teachers unions and force those who want to continue teaching to re-apply through 4) outsource the teaching at these facilities through an agency to China and France. Those wishing to re-apply as teachers would have to do so through that agency and be able to pass either the Chinese or the French standards for teachers.

    It’s not all that dificult. If a society and it’s members can’t get two out of three things that lead to this problem correct, the society and it’s members must ultimately stop living in a state of denial about that lack of ability and outsource the practices to those proven competent in the solutions to the problem. This society and it’s members get one of the three components, (procreation) correct but fail, as a whole, at parenting and education. Turn those over to competents.

    January 29, 2007 | 8:21 pm

    You have to admit that its very difficult to argue with students in the 8th grade about why learning algebra 2 in high school is going to help them earn more money at wal-mart and target.

    It is a problem that builds upon itself. If you have a dropout that goes on to have children, and the children see mom and dad make money without a high school diploma and if those parents aren’t pushing them to have a diploma then you have a hard fight to convince them otherwise. Having a high school diploma will statistically put you at a better advantage over the course of your life, but it does not show an immediate guaranteed benefit for all students.

    I know my local high school is growing in total student population. This past year was a record year for number of 9th graders. But last year’s graduation class was the lowest number in 20 years. Those kids go somewhere.

    January 30, 2007 | 1:45 pm

    Hi Polimom, I followed the links back from The Moderate Voice.

    Do you have any idea how the drop-out rate statistics handle mobile populations? I don’t know how big this is in Texas, but the mention of the border towns made me think about the large migrant populations in much of the West. If my family is migrant workers and I study 9th grade in one school and 10th grade in another, etc., have I dropped out 4 times, even if I end up with a diploma in a different state than I started in?

    January 30, 2007 | 2:18 pm

    Hi paca! Welcome to my alter-personality.

    The migrant population is a good question. I’ve read that the schools do, actually, try to keep up with students who leave one school and re-enroll elsewhere. But I haven’t seen anything that tells me they can track out of a district. So if a student enrolls in Houston but then goes to Dallas, and they don’t send for transcripts, I’d imagine they drop out of sight.

    Perhaps someone else has other information? I googled some and poked at the TEA site, but no luck.

    February 3, 2007 | 9:27 am

    If school administrators did not know about the 50% dropout rates many urban schools suffer from, then why have they avoided posting current enrollment by grade, along with actual graduation numbers, on their schools web sites? It is a rather simple statistic that cannot be argued or debated, and every school has those numbers. Patterns over many years would be priceless inforamtion for the public. If the simple enrollment by grade for every school as well as every school district were simply posted on their web sites then the public could decide what the dropout rate is. The “mathematical magic” that gave Houston a single digit dropout rate could then be explained by the administrator claiming that single digit dropout rate in the backdrop of actual enrollment numbers by grade.

    February 3, 2007 | 11:06 am

    I have to agree, Bill, that there’s probably been a fair amount of obfuscation and avoidance about these numbers. It doesn’t seem as if it’s rocket science…

    BTW — the project you’re running on your site is interesting. Do the kids enjoy doing it?

    July 8, 2007 | 11:04 pm

    Yes Polimon, our students appear to consistently love our project. It is voluntary and over 95% participate. We did a survey of the 400 students who wrote letters this past year. A 15 question survey was given both before and after the letter writing process. The results are online at http://www.studentmotivation.org/school_archive_letter_process_survey_2007.htm. You will note that just before the letter writing process about 65% of students said they would continue education after high school graduation. After the letter writing process that percentage went up to over 85%. That part of the process alone is positive. Also, current projections are for there to be 78 more students than in last years projection in the junior class at the main school our students go to. This is the first class that wrote letters back in 2005. It looks good!

    July 8, 2007 | 11:09 pm

    I forgot to mention that if you google ‘dropout cure’ our web site is now the first hit. This simple, low cost, popular project will hopefully soon spread to other middle schools as a Language Arts project with the resulting letters students write to themselves placed into a rotating time-capsule for 10 years until the class 10-year reunion.

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