For the past 5 years Louisiana has been reporting they have steadily decreased their event dropout rate.   In simple terms, an Event Dropout Rate is the percent of students in select grade levels (in this case grades 7-12 or 9-12) that are enrolled at some point during the year but then exit and are determined by other data (or lack of data) to have dropped out of school.  Because dropout calculations rely on future data (or lack thereof) dropout rates lag a few years behind the actual school year.

Currently the most recent data for Louisiana is the 2010 dropout rate from the 2010-2011 school year.  The 2011-2012 dropout rate should become available around November or so.  I can already tell you what it will say.  It will say for the 6th straight year our event dropout rate will have miraculously decreased!

I guess congratulations are in order for the Reform movement and all the school takeovers LDOE has been pushing through for select parishes like EBR and New Orleans.  (Oh, you didn’t notice that most of the rest of the state like Caddo Parish has been spared takeovers even though they have schools just as bad or worse than the ones already taken over?   That’s not accidental, it’s political, but that’s another article entirely.)

Now John White and the Teach for America Reformers will claim this decrease is due to their concerted efforts to keep students in school and to replace failing schools and ineffective teachers with better ones.  Unfortunately no one at the Advocate or Times Picayune are asking the tough questions – or any questions really.  They have deadlines to meet, and made-to-order press releases to publish.  They need to fill their pages with crap the Jindal Administration and LDOE pre-chews and regurgitates into their starving baby bird mouths.  Is it any wonder their economic model is failing?  But I digress.

Let’s look at some of the numbers here.  I hope to be able to present this evidence in a way anyone should be able to see something fishy is going on.  Since I was the one who wrote and designed the programming logic behind calculating dropouts, I can point out the weak points that could be exploited.  Earlier in my career I also worked with auditors (when we had them – we don’t audit these numbers now) to reveal which districts and schools were reporting suspicious looking stuff.  I will then reveal some of their tricks they are probably using now.

Notice in 2005 we had 9-12 dropout count of over 14,000.  This was the year of Katrina, but also the year we started taking over local schools and school districts and turning them over to RSD.  The next year we took over some more schools, but only in New Orleans and our dropouts still stayed relatively high, about 1000 less.   Come 2007-2008 our dropout rate went up a little.  This the first year we started taking over, or talking about taking over schools outside of New Orleans.  The next year our dropouts dropped to 12,000, then 8700 and finally about 8000 in grades 9-12 for 2010-2011.  By now we’ve taken over schools in East Baton Rouge and Pointe Coupee and threatened to take over schools in a few handfuls of other parishes.  Schools get taken over in based on SPS (School Performance Scores) of which a component is the Event Dropout Rate which this table shows.

Not coincidentally, 2008 is the year two shadow schools opened in Iberville Parish.  Shadow schools are schools that are not declared to the state as “schools” but operate in every other way as a school.  Having one or more magnet “shadow schools” allows you to send/route you higher performing students to the state through lower performing ones, making them appear better than they are to parents and the state, and making them ineligible for takeover.  In fact, what is going on is the regular schools are getting worse as lucky kids go to the shadow schools and the rejected ones get stuck in crap schools that nonetheless look like they are improving or making AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress.)

So what do shadow schools have to do with the miraculous event dropout rate improvement?  Well, they are both illusions designed by schools districts to avoid accountability sanctions of course!  LDOE is fine with this, so long as it looks like they’re plans are working they reward these ingenious districts.  Districts that don’t get with the dishonesty program are soundly punished and taken over.  If only they knew LDOE doesn’t have any intention of ever auditing them (they let all those guys go years ago.)

Now, you may say, “where’s the proof?  Where’s the smoking gun?  This is just speculation, and maybe all these fancy folks we hire from out of state are really having an impact on our students and state?”

Well, you could be right. . .  But if our students are not dropping out, then what’s the opposite of dropping out. . . graduating, right?   Over the last few years from 2008 – 2010 we had around 13-14 thousand cumulative fewer students dropping out.  So surely by the 2011 graduate count should be averaging around 6 or 7 k more students a year graduating?  The cumulative effect of 6500 more students staying in school every year for 4 years should equal around 24,000 more graduates or so, right? But at least for these first 4 years we should have around 14 or 15 thousand graduates more, if these stats are correct. (the numbers are even more prfound if we use the 7-12 grade dropoout numbers.  The difference there is now at 9 thousand fewer dropouts a year according to state figures.)

If you look take a look at these graduate counts you find we have more graduates in 2005, than we have even today.  While it’s true our student count decreased after 2005, it’s actually increasing at a slower rate than our student population is increasing.  Our student count has increased by 653786/696558*100= 9.3% since 2005.

Our graduate count has still not actually recovered to our 2005 count.  By that measure it would appear we are actually graduating a lower percentage of our students than Pre-Katrina and Pre-Reform, Pre-School Takeover.

Also note that while we have finally recovered to our pre=Katrina graduation count, almost 2000 more students are taking remedial classes.  During this same time frame we lowered our graduation requirements and introduce something called a career diploma (that is lighter on college level course work.  Do you think that could be related?)

So where are all these students going if they are not graduating?  Good question.  Let me tell you a little story:

I was working with one of the auditors, back when we verified school district data, when he showed me something that seemed a bit bizarre.  One of our dropout factories went from having around 30 – 50 dropouts every year to zero the next.  When I called to find out what was going on I was told this school had a new “no nonsense” principal.  He ran a tight ship.  He walked on water and his sh*t smelled like roses, if it smelled at all.  I was impressed, but just to be sure. . . I passed this site off to an auditor to investigate.  A few weeks later my accountability auditor came by and let me in on the secret. 

Apparently some of the rumors were true.  This principal knew his evaluation and job security depended on getting the dropout situation under control.  When he saw his preliminary dropout list he instructed his school secretary to “fix it.”  She did as she was told.   All of the students that exited the school but never showed up anywhere else were fixed.  Every student that said they were dropping out to get a job, or because they hated school or never thought they could meet the graduation requirements, was fixed.  Every student that joined an adult education program, just stopped going to school, or was expelled and never returned, was fixed.  “Fixed” meant changing every student’s exit code to indicate they had transferred out of state.  After every student on the preliminary dropout list was coded as transferring out of state the dropout problem was fixed and the principal looked great!

Some other tricks I saw back when we bothered to audit schools (back before the numbers carried any significant meaning)

  • Changing the grade level of students to grade 6 (or even grade 4 in one instance) so when they “dropped out” they didn’t get tallied in the official 7-12 dropout numbers.
  • After getting the money for the student based on the October collection, schools would delete students that dropped out form their roles for the entire year (this is a charter school favorite)
  • Going back to a year where dropouts were already finalized and publishied and changing student data to show a student had actually dropped out that year, instead of the current year.
  • Exiting students to any Non-dropout reason like out of state that can’t be verified or disproven by data (such as exit to non-public, or out of state)
  • Expelling students for 2 or more years – those cases are beyond the current capabilities of the dropout calculation to verify if a student has promptly enrolled after a 2 or more year expulsion (but they almost never return)

Schools are “fixing” their dropouts again, on a statewide scale.  The Dropout Event Rate is more important than ever now that it is a component of SPS (School Performance Scores.)  When faced with the prospects of having their school taken over by the state and handed over to a charter school operator that will in all likelihood do a job no better than you, and often quite worse, what would you do?  LDOE doesn’t care, as long as their plans and policies are “proved” effective, by data they know better than to scrutinize.

This works out for the politicians, political hacks, and charter school scoundrels running LDOE ( into the ground.)  John White and his cronies claim they are introducing these reforms for the children.  They bitch and moan about how the teachers and their unions and the”coalition of the status quo” is only looking after their adult issues (must be nice no to have to worry about adult issues but as a single guy in louisiana making almost 300k I imagine he doesn;t need to) and concerns, and not the welfare of “the children.”   I guess they just mean the children than manage to stay enrolled though their reforms.  Maybe next time we should ask which children he thinks he’s helping?

According to DOE our cohort graduation rate (the percent of students entering 9th grade that graduate in 4 years) is 70% ask John White next time you see him, “Do you really care about helping those missing 30%, those 20,000 flesh and blood children that drop out every year?  From where I stand it looks like you’re just interested in getting your percentages better, even if they are built on an illusion crafted solely to fuel your personal ambition.”

Maybe John White should worry less about adult issues like blaming teachers for the problems that are a result of poverty and really try to focus on the children?

Maybe if he had some children of his own, he’d give a shit?  Nah, probably not.  He’d put them in non-public school, like EBR’s BESE member Chas Roemer, while using public students to further his political career and agenda.

By the look of our numbers our dropout situation is actually getting worse, not better, but LDOE is encouraging school districts to modify which students we count to make our “numbers” and percents look better.  At our current our current rate of decline our offiicial dropout numbers could reach zero in a few years.  Despite what John White tells you, that’s not a good deal for Louisiana to Believe.

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2 thoughts on “Louisiana’s Dropout Numbers Don’t Add Up

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