CRISIS IN THE CITIES
School districts fare poorly in graduation-rates report
By Diane Smith and Martha DellerStar-Telegram Staff Writers April 1, 2008
FORT WORTH, TEXAS Slightly more than half the ninth-graders who entered Fort Worth district schools in 2000 went on to graduate in 2004, a rate below the national graduation rate of 70 percent, according to a report on schools in the nation's 50 largest cities by an organization founded by former Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Fort Worth's graduation rate for the Class of '04 was 56 percent, Arlington's was 62.7 percent, and Dallas' was 44.4 percent, according to Cities in Crisis: A Special Analytic Report on High School Graduation, which was prepared for America's Promise Alliance.
The report shows a graduation-rate gap of an estimated 19 percentage points between urban and suburban schools in the Arlington-Fort Worth-Dallas metropolitan region during that school year, according to the findings.
"It's bad news, but it's welcome so we can be responsible for our assignment," said Chuck Hoffman, assistant superintendent of student support services for Fort Worth schools.
Who conducted the study?
The alliance, led by Powell's wife, Alma Powell, was scheduled to release the report today. It is billed as one of the first attempts to compare the performances of urban school districts in different states.
The data were compiled by Editorial Projects in Education Research Center.
Sponsors for the alliance's dropout prevention campaign include State Farm Insurance. The campaign hopes to "develop workable solutions and action plans for improving our nation's alarming graduation rates," according to a news release.
Dropout prevention summits are being scheduled, including a Texas summit and events in Fort Worth and Arlington, according to the alliance.
Arlington schools ranked 13th among the 50 largest U.S. urban districts, Fort Worth schools ranked 25th and Dallas schools ranked 44th.
The Mesa district in Arizona was No. 1 with a 77 percent graduation rate.
"It's good to know we're not at the bottom," Arlington Superintendent Hector Montenegro said. "But a 62 percent graduation rate means that 38 percent of our children are not being successful. That's the tragedy of it all. We've known many of these reasons for many years, and yet they're still happening."
Montenegro said the Arlington district is taking steps to reduce the number of dropouts.
"We're going to be creating a more collaborative culture between the faculty and staff and a more inclusive culture in which youngsters are afforded more co-curricular and extracurricular opportunities," he said. "Too many of our children are being left out."
Seventeen of the nation's 50 largest cities had a graduation rate lower than 50 percent in the largest district serving the city, including Dallas schools. Detroit ranked the lowest, with a 25 percent graduation rate.
Seventeen metropolitan areas had a gap between urban and suburban graduation rates of more than 20 percentage points, including Baltimore, which showed a 47 percentage-point gap. The Arlington-Fort Worth-Dallas disparity gap of 18.9 percentage points is the highest in Texas. The second-highest Texas gap is in the Austin metropolitan region, at 12.9 percentage points.
Why do suburban districts have better graduation rates?
Cathy Anderson, assistant superintendent of Everman schools, said students in urban districts tend to move more. "It's hard for schools to work with students when they come in the middle of the year and they haven't been able to work with them the whole time," she said. "The study doesn't really address that."
The national study used a different method to calculate the graduation rate than that used by the Texas Education Agency. Using one method allowed researchers to compare "apples to apples" among states that calculate dropout rates differently, researcher Chris Swanson said.
The researchers used the cumulative promotion index, which multiplies ratios of students promoted each year by the number who received diplomas in 2004. The data came from the Common Core of Data, an annual census of public schools and school districts compiled by the U.S. Education Department.
Texas' formula calculates the percentage of ninth-graders who graduate in four years. In 2004, that calculation excluded students who transferred out of the district, could not be tracked to another school or completed graduation requirements but failed all or part of the TAKS. That changed in 2006, when the state began counting students who failed the TAKS as dropouts, not graduates.
What was the 2004 graduation rate for Fort Worth schools under the TEA's formula?
Why is the study important?
"From an economic development perspective, it's very important to the area that all students are well-educated," Swanson said. "To remain competitive in the world, you need everybody to contribute, and you can't do that unless they have opportunities."
Swanson said the report's sponsors hope that educators will use the findings to reduce the urban-suburban gap and improve the graduation rate in the largest urban areas as well as nationwide.
Swanson noted "little pockets of high performance" in Arlington-Fort Worth-Dallas.
"That kind of example calls attention to the stark disparity," he said. "For a country that prides itself on educational opportunity for all students, those are not patterns we want to see."
How can districts help one another?
Methods used by "states or districts that are successful can be used in other districts. Detroit, for example, could find a district with similar demographics and a higher graduation rate, see what they're doing differently and try to implement it in Detroit," said Tammy Castleberry, spokeswoman for the Eagle Mountain-Saginaw district.
Staff writer Shirley Jinkins contributed to this report.