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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Texas Loses Track of Black Student Drop-Outs

By Eddie Griffin

The annual dropout rates for African American students in Texas, already higher than dropout rates for white and Hispanic students, might be even higher than previously reported, according to a Texas Education Agency report released last week.

(For the full story, read “Study: Texas schools more likely to lose track of African American students” by Molly Bloom, Austin-American Statesman)

Linda Roska, director of the Texas Education Agency's division of accountability research and a co-author of the report, said she couldn't say why the gap exists.

Eddie Griffin Commentary:

When the TEA reports that African-American students are falling through the cracks of the educational system and the Division of Accountability cannot explain why these students do not show up on the drop-out statistics, something is terribly wrong with the meaning of accountability.

Did this information come as a new revelation to the Texas Education Agency? If so, how long has this trend been going on? And, how many black students have we already lost, without any accounting?

What could be wrong besides racism?

First is the resistance of school administrators to count a student as a “drop-out”. That would signify the public school system had failed that student. And, the Fort Worth ISD, as well as other school districts, would rather look the other way than concede failure, than admit that a student is lost.

The second problem is the confusing methodology used to calculate the drop-out rate. School administrations try to keep students on the books as long as possible. The school is funded on the basis of daily attendance per student. The high drop-out rate cuts into state funding allocations.

These are two possible incentives for underreporting the drop-out rate of African-American children.

If the Texas Education Agency cannot explain this “mysterious” mass disappearance, it becomes all the more apparent that community leaders must intervene and seize control of the institution. It is obvious that the public school system failed these students who disappear into thin air.

That’s our baby

The problem could be in the tracking system. I have been a long advocate of a clock-in/clock-out system, where the unit of measurement for the drop-out would correspond with loss of productivity time, i.e. percentage of hours lost in the classroom.

Not only does this system give real-time attendance accounting, but an overview of the percentage of time spent in the classroom. On the other hand, attendance does not necessarily translate into quality education time. The quality of classroom education should be measured by academic achievement, whether by an end-of-course assessment or the standardized TAKS test.

Quantity versus Quality in Education

A student with 50% class time would be considered a “drop-out” in anybody’s book. But if the student has 90% high academic rating, he or she is not considered a lost cause. Therefore, there has to be a combined assessment of quantity and quality.

There should be triggers when productivity or class participation time decreases. There should be benchmarks when academic achievement rises to either new heights or falls to a new low.

This model is simple, comprehensible, and efficient. But it seems, however, that the public school system continues to build upon an antiquated mass production model, with an ever-increasing and expanding bureaucracy. For example, when I look at the number of employees in the Austin accountability office, and compare it with this sad-looking data, it signifies, to me, that the overhead is not worth the results.

Are you satisfied with Linda Roska answer above? If not, contact:

The Texas Education Agency
1701 N. Congress Avenue
Austin, Texas, 78701
(512) 463-9734
Linda Roska, Accountability Research (512) 475-3523

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