And I don’t wanna say I told you so
But I told you so.
– The Offspring
Rise and Fall
A year and a half ago, then-Gov. Sonny Perdue triumphantly toured Georgia to brag about having improved the state’s graduation rate.
Not even a Russian circus contortionist could accomplish such protracted back-patting. Perdue claimed in visits to several schools that the graduation rate, since he took over the governor’s mansion from former Gov. Roy Barnes, had increased 17 percentage points.
It was no coincidence that Perdue’s triumphant trip was timed to land just a couple of weeks before the general election, in which Democrat Barnes was up against Republican Nathan Deal.
Deal won the race, and inherited the education system that Perdue claims to have rescued. Just one problem, as we saw last week: Perdue’s numbers were faked, and he knew it.
In fact, everyone knew it. I said so, right here, in this space, on Nov. 3, 2010. In a column titled “After Perdue comes the fall,” I pointed out that Perdue and the state Department of Education were using a system to calculate the graduation rate that was designed specifically to make the numbers look better than they actually are.
“Perdue knows not only that his claim of improvements is based on smoke and mirrors, but he knows it will disappear next year when the state uses a more honest assessment,” I wrote.
So here we are. As we saw last week, state officials were forced to replace Perdue’s congratulatory tour with a tap-dancing act when Georgia was forced to report its graduation rate using a formula dictated by the federal government.
As a result, Georgia’s graduation rate appears to have plummeted. Keep in mind, there really isn’t any significant difference, either way, in the number of students failing to finish high school. This is only about how that number is calculated and reported, using a “cohort rate” vs. a “leaver rate.” The difference between the two methods equals exactly who cares.
In a nutshell, Perdue and state education officials were using a formula that overstated the graduation rate. They knew they were doing so, and Perdue did it just to preen.
And now, the new governor and new state school superintendent are having to use the same formula as everyone else in the country – one that quite possibly exaggerates the rate in the other direction.
Based on this switch in methods, Columbia County’s graduation rate also dropped – to frightening levels at some schools. But I have zero confidence in even those numbers. It’s not because the calculation is still phony, but because it just lacks common sense.
When it really comes down to it, we don’t need to report the “graduation rate.” We need to track the “dropout rate.” In other words, we should be able to determine how many students, as a percentage of the school population, quit school and never earn a diploma or GED. Those are the people who ought to be targeted for help, not kids who take an extra semester to finish.
And in addition to targeting dropouts, we should target lying politicians who screw up the school system while claiming to fix it.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. Email barry.paschal@newstimes online.com, or call 706-863-6165, extension 106. Follow at twitter.com/