Two months after The Times reported the dropout-pushout
Washington Post visited
the story and added another dimension, this one about the
achievement miracle.( When Secretary Paige took over as
Houston superintendent, only 26 percent of the city's 10th
graders were passing the state math test; the year he departed
for Washington, 99 percent were passing it. Miraculous?
quite, suggests The
Washington Post. It seems that Paige's association
with the Houston-based American Productivity and Quality
Center taught him a few things about statistics that
would help the district. For example, under Paige it
became commonplace for at-risk 9th-graders to be retained
in that grade, allowing only the competent to matriculate
to 10th — the year when they would take the state
math test. After two or more years in 9th grade, those
at-risk students were moved up to 12th grade, in effect
sidestepping the 10th-grade test. The result is that
by 2001, there were 1,160 students in 9th grade and 281
in 10th grade. And 99 percent of those 281 passed the
state math test. (For details,
'Miracle' Has a Math Problem," by Michael Dobbs, Washington
Post Nov. 8, 2003, p 1; online at: www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A14117-2003Nov7.html;
also the Houston TV investigative report
from KHOU: Report
1 and Report
All of this might diminish the
meaning of "miracle" but it certainly adds new meaning
to the term "writing off your losses." Not that
such retentions are anything new in football states like
Texas. They've been "redshirting" their athletes
for years, holding 8th-graders back an extra year to "bulk
'em up" for high school football.
"60 Minutes II" comes
On Jan. 7, 2004, CBS "60
Minutes II" aired a Dan Rather report
on the Houston ISD's woes (worth noting: CBS'
coverage appeared 216,000 minutes [5 months] after the print media
first reported the situation). Rather's complete report,
including an interview with Robert Kimball, can be read
in its entirety at 60
Minutes II-Texas. Although Houston
ISD officials refused to appear on camera, they
did respond off-camera and its press secretary issued a
rebuttal to accusations that would come up in the show.
That rebuttal can be downloaded as a PDF file at Response.
Here is an excerpt from the show itself:
Minutes II wanted to ask Houston school
officials about Kimball’s charges, but they
wouldn’t talk on-camera. They said they wouldn't
'get a fair shake.' But they did meet off-camera,
and they argued that the audit proved outright
fraud only at Sharpstown High.
At the other schools, they contended,
the false statistics were due to 'confusion' about
the complex state system for coding students, and sloppy
bookkeeping. They conceded, however, that Houston's
'official' 1.5 percent dropout rate was not accurate.
Those officials also urged 60 Minutes
II to get a better picture of the Houston school system
on-camera from Rob Mosbacher, a Houston
businessman, school supporter and Republican activist.
'I think the district looks at the
challenges it has, and sets high expectations. And
that's something that makes all of us very proud. Because
they've been making the progress that shows that expectations
can be realized,' says Mosbacher.
60 Minutes II also tried to talk
to [Rod] Paige himself, but he declined.
His spokesman said the dropout controversy broke after
Paige left Houston to become education secretary. And
he said the phony statistics at Sharpstown were the
work of a few individuals.
Paige's spokesman suggested that
60 Minutes II talk to Jay Greene,
a leading expert on dropouts at the Manhattan Institute.
Greene supports the kind of accountability reforms
Paige enacted in Houston.
But this is what Greene said when
asked what he thought about Houston's 'official' dropout
rates: 'I find that very hard to believe. It is almost
certainly not true. I think it's simply implausible.
I think a reasonable guess is that almost half of Houston's
students do not graduate from high school.'
Greene also points out that Houston's
dropout problem is no worse than that of school systems
in many other large American cities: 'I think they
are doing about as well as most urban school districts,
which is to say not very well … I don’t
think they’ve been doing super well.'"
weeks later Education
Secretary Paige defended his record and pointed
to the Houston controversy as just part of the political
"Some people think they can damage the process of
national reform and defeat the No Child Left Behind law
by striking out at Texas and the Houston Independent School
District. They believe they can win by fighting a proxy
war here. So they try to devalue the good work of the people
of Houston." (Dr. Paige
was quoted in a New York Times article, Jan. 28,
Chief Defends Policy and Past," by Diana Jean
Schemo. For a more vitriolic quote from Dr. Paige regarding
those who oppose NCLB, see Paige
and Opponents; see also Paige
getting the points.)
else the State Audit found in Houston
The state audit of Houston ISD
uncovered not only a dropout hoax but also a "college
hoax of similar proportions.
reported by The New York
Times ("For Houston
Schools, College Claims Exceed Reality,"
by Diana Jean Schemo, Aug. 28, 2003, p. A12), many
Houston high schools reported to the state that as many
as 100 percent of their students were planning to attend
college when the reality was less than 50 percent were
purpose of such inflated figures was described by a former
level administrators inflated their figures in the
hope of attracting the children of active, involved
parents. More students also mean more money from
the state. On paper, her school claimed that almost
all its graduates were headed for college. In fact,
the principal said most of them 'couldn't spell college,
let alone attend.'"
again, as pressures were applied from above to raise
scores, administrators warped the truth in hopes of raising
scores: If active affluent parents believe a school is
sending 100 percent of its students to college, then
they likely would enroll their child in such a high school.
The more such children enroll, the higher the school's
scores will be. The premise, however, is built on a lie
fermented by high stakes' testing.
Houston graduate told The
Times that since the high schools' false claims
did no individual any harm, perhaps it didn't matter.
She did add,
"But it could mean they lie about a lot more other
the books with Enron BBQ sauce
woman's comment was certainly prescient. Within a few months,
more disturbing news was emanating from Houston ISD, this
time involving its failure to accurately report violent
crime in its schools.
Under both Texas and federal laws, school
districts must report campus crime to oversight agencies.
Once totaled, those reports can have serious ramifications
for both the school, its administration, and the district.
If a student is suspended from school, the school
loses state funding for that student, often resulting
in a loss of thousands of dollars.
If a school consistently rings up high suspension and
assault figures, the principal or the entire administration
could be replaced in favor of those who would bring calm
to the apparent chaos.
a school's annual disciplinary totals become alarming,
affluent parents are less apt to enroll their achieving
children in the school, thus lowering the schools academic
— another reason for possible reason for replacing
the administration. If the academic figures do not rise
sufficiently, the No Child Left Behind Act allows parents
to freely transfer their children out of such a school,
thus depriving it of even more state funds. This would
also be the case if a school were labeled as a "persistently
the district were to receive a "dangerous"
rating, this could do serious damage to the chances of
winning the Broad
Prize for Urban Education as the nation's
most exemplary urban school district, to say nothing
of the damage done to the Texas "education miracle."
Thus it behooves a school administration
to keep the chaos and violence low, for the sake of the
school, the students, and for the administration's "job
If one cannot keep the lid on literally, then perhaps it
would be necessary to do so figuratively; that is, by "cooking
the books," a procedure Houston ISD may have learned
from their late benefactors and neighbors at Enron.
Did the district cook the books?
They say no, though they admit to moving some items out
of column A to column B, erasing items — like rape,
stabbing, and assault — because the students involved
were never suspended from school; they went to jail instead
and that doesn't count as "school" crime, despite
occurring on school property. You see, the student wasn't suspended — he
was sentenced. Sounds like Enron accounting to
So — how
off the mark was the school's accounting of campus violence?
The district's own police force which oversees the 80
middle and high schools, reported 3,091 assaults
during the last four years. The district, in turn, reported
only 761 to
the state's Austin database. Missing were 2,330 cases,
including the rape of a disabled 17-year-old in a wheelchair,
the stomping and beating of a middle school boy, and the
chest-stabbing of a 16-year-old.
then there was the discrepancy over suspensions, attributed
to a computer glitch by ISD officials. (When in hot water,
always blame the computer.) In one year, Houston ISD
suspended 2,000 students
but reported only 200 to the state. The
difference, of course, would have an impact on how much
or little a school lost in the way of state funding. No
suspension reported, no money lost.
more complete report on the widespread misinformation
at Houston ISD regarding its campus violence can be found
online in the original story, broken by New York Times reporter Sam
School Violence Data Under a Cloud,"The New
York Times, Nov. 7, 2003, pp. 1A, 16A) The
district's superintendent, who had made herself unavailable
to be interviewed by The Times earlier in the
week, held a press conference after the article appeared
to denounce it but did not dispute the facts: "I take
personal offense at this attack on the public schools of
Houston," declared Supt. Kaye Stripling.
(Ms. Stripling also took her leave of the whole operation
within months and handed in her resignation/retirement.
Seeing the writing on the wall [a la the Enron Gang], two
other HISD officials followed suit, all of them closely
linked to Education Secretary Paige: Cathy Mincberg,
chief of HISD business services who encouraged Dr. Paige's "business
approach" to education, and board of education member Laurie
Bricker, whose architect husband received millions
of dollars in school services during her board membership
but was recently turned down for a new contract.)
to be outdone, Dallas had its own problem
with dropout math. Consider the observations of Jay
P. Greene, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute
for Policy Research:
inability of outsiders to check district accounts
of student whereabouts can lead to graduation statistics
that are grossly in error. Take, for example, the
Dallas school district, which reports an annual dropout
rate of 1.3 percent. Presenting dropout rates in
annual terms is like reporting credit card interest
rates in monthly terms; it just makes the number
feel smaller. If we convert the annual rate into
a cumulative rate (which is how everyone thinks about
dropouts), we would expect about 8 percent of an
8th grade class to drop out before graduation. Yet
according to my calculations, only 52 percent of 8th
grade students in Dallas manage to earn diplomas. The
1.3 percent rate reported by the district has to be
a fantasy in a district with half as many graduates
as 8th graders and a growing student population. — from "Graduation
Statistics: Caveat Emptor,"
Jay P. Green, Education
Week Commentary Jan.
16, 2002, pp. 52, 37
What it adds up to is a "mirage,"
not a "miracle," a mirage that the rest of America
has been asked to adopt as an "education standard."
As Robert Kimball noted after leaving Houston ISD, "In
Texas, we now have more people incarcerated than in California,
which has 12 million more residents. If we do not build
better schools and improve graduation rates, we will soon
have to build more prisons." (See Kimball "Gifted"
Houston can cook, we can ALL cook!
districts in states like Texas apply increasing pressure
to meet higher standards while dangling incentive bonuses
at administrators and teachers, the devil increasingly
appears in the details. On December 19, 2004, The
Daily Morning News released an exclusive
report from an investigation of school scores on the state's
TAKS test, a report that rattled the nerve center of Texas
classes' past year test performances with the following
year's scores, The
Morning News' reporters turned up 25 Houston schools
with highly unusual — indeed nearly super-human — class
performances and more than 400 suspect schools among the
state's 7,700 public schools. More often than not, the
students came from low-income areas that normally score
near the bottom but within one year had soared to the top.
One of the schools, Houston's Wesley Elementary,
had been used by both President George W. Bush and Oprah
Winfrey as a shining example of at-risk urban
children who were able to overcome the odds and surpass
their wealthier suburban neighbors.
What The Morning News uncovered
were glaring inconsistencies in scores and a faculty conspiracy.
"You're expected to cheat there," Donna Garner,
a former teacher at Wesley, told The Morning News,
adding that her fellow teachers instructed her on how to
give students answers while administering tests. "There's
no way those scores are real."
was radical grade swings like those at Sanderson Elementary, located
in a low-income area of Houston, that raised suspicions
for the Morning News investigative team:
In 2003, after years of
mediocre performance, it reached what has traditionally
been the pinnacle for American schools: The U.S.
Department of Education named Sanderson a Blue Ribbon
School because of rapid improvement in its test scores.
But the News' analysis
raises questions about the validity of Sanderson's
TAKS performance, particularly in fifth-grade math.
scored extremely poorly on the math TAKS test. Their
average scale score was so low that it ranked Sanderson
in the bottom 2 percent of the state: No. 3,173 out
of 3,227 schools.
That's roughly what might
be expected from a school where 98 percent of the
student body is poor enough to qualify for free or
reduced lunches. Hundreds of research studies have
found that student poverty is the single most important
factor in student academic achievement.
But Sanderson's fifth-graders
had astonishing success on the math test. They had
the highest scale scores of any school in Texas,
beating every magnet school, every wealthy suburban
school and every high-performing school in the state.
Sanderson didn't just finish
No. 1. No other school in the state was even close.
In scale-score points, the distance between Sanderson
and the No. 2 school was as large as the gap between
No. 2 and No. 116. More than 90 percent of Sanderson's
fifth-graders got perfect or near-perfect scores.
JUST IN THE CLASSROOM: Manipulation
of the facts to fit the expedient moment would continue
throughout all corners of the Bush White House, including
the Iraq War. Witness the tragic case of football star
Pat Tillman's death in Afghanistan and
how the Bush-folks lied, covered-up, and finally (and belatedly)
apologized for the mess. (See Boots
on the Ground review.)
on the Texas cheating scandal can be found at:
"HISD pupils' math skills
in question: One elementary's high TAKS scores bring
by Jason Spencer, Houston Chronicle, Dec. 19,
"DISD probing TAKS scores:
FW also joins Houston in investigating schools that
might have cheated," by Joshua Benton, The
Dallas Morning News, Jan. 7, 2005 (http://www.dallasnews.com/s/dws/news/longterm/stories/010805dnmetcheatfolo.b0cbe.html)
"Monitors will police
HISD tests," by Joshua Benton, The Dallas
Morning News, Jan. 12, 2005 (http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/education/stories/010705dnmetcheatfolo.d7236.html)
"State plans TAKS cheating
inquiry: TEA also will hire expert to help prevent,
detect deceit," by Joshua Benton, The Dallas
Morning News, January 12, 2005 (http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/education/stories/011005dntextaks.978e4837.html)
"HISD plan: Fight fraud
on the cheap," by Rick Casey, Houston Chronicle,
Jan. 8, 2005 (http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/ssistory.mpl/metropolitan/casey/2983201)
"Monitors descend for TAKS testing:
70 at Wilmer-Hutchins called agency's biggest anti-cheating
effort ever," by Joshua Benton, Dallas Morning News,
February 22, 2005
Other articles on the Houston dropout scandal
can be found at:
Defends School System He Once Led,” by Diane
Jean Schemo, The New York Times,
July 26, 2003, p. A9;
"Questions on Data Cloud Luster
of Houston Schools: Unreported Dropouts Are Said to Skew
by Diana Jean Schemo, The New York Times, July
11, 2003, p. A1, A12;
"State to Monitor Houston Schools
to Ensure Reporting of Dropouts," by Diane Jean
Schemo, The New York Times, Aug. 8, 2003, p.
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