Utah is the only state which does not have a “dropout factory,” defined as “a high school where no more than 60 percent of the students who start as freshmen make it to their senior year.”
This is the finding of an Associated Press investigation which asked researchers from Johns Hopkins University to analyze data from the U.S. Department of Education. In fact, the term “dropout factory” was coined by Bob Balfanz, one of the university’s researchers.
The study found that 10 percent of American high schools have serious retention problems, with Florida and South Carolina having the highest concentrations of “dropout factories.”
While the news is good for Utah, we should acknowledge that the status quo will hardly suffice in ensuring good value and quality of a Utah high school diploma particularly as the state grows both in population and diversity. Even more so, voters should be certainly highly skeptical of the need for school vouchers which will be decided at the Nov. 6 statewide referendum.
The AP report — along with other important education research analyses — underscores that what is really at stake here is accountability, certainly sorely missing in the promise of a vote for the voucher referendum.
The most important thing we need to be doing in public education is the mutual cooperation of all stakeholders in getting at “true accountability.” The money quote from the nonprofit Alliance for Excellent Education report:
“[Most] data and accountability systems at the state and federal levels do not have the necessary capacity. Stakeholders have recognized that a major obstacle to improving calculations is the lack of student-level data, which is a rare commodity at the district and state levels because of the lack of infrastructure, funding, training, and other capacities to invest in data systems that follow each student over time.
As a result, it is not surprising that initiatives aimed at calculating and reporting accurate graduation data are increasingly accompanied by recommendations for building and supporting longitudinal data systems—statewide data systems that provide more accurate student-level data by following each student from the time he or she enters the educational pipeline until he or she leaves it.”
This certainly makes good sense particularly in the current debate that has become increasingly partisan, misinformed, and inappropriately emotional as we move toward the critical decision day.
Accountability is the most important pretext we have in making the right corrective actions and, considering our fortunate standing in this most recent analysis, rather than lead by vouchers, we should blaze the trail with an example of “true accountability,” focusing our efforts on tracking systems that, in effect, become a prototype for rectifying one of the key shortcomings of the No Child Left Behind Act — that is, accurate accountability systems.
In turn, accurate data will inform our policy decisions and help us target resources to where they need to be. Again, a money quote from the nonprofit Alliance for Excellent Education:
“It is simple enough: states need longitudinal data systems to provide student-level data. Student-level data is necessary to produce accurate, disaggregated graduation rates, without which it is impossible to assess the progress being made by the nation’s schools and students or target resources to improve outcomes. Careful analysis of accurate high school graduation patterns provides essential insight into the performance of the public education system. Valid and reliable data can both identify problems and drive resources to the areas most in need.”
This certainly sounds like the best reason NOT to vote for the voucher referendum on Nov. 6. Then, we should turn our energies toward the winter legislative session in pushing for a meaningful system of accountability in our public education system.
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