Sometimes, it can be near impossible to get straight talk on education statistics. Just talk a look at a simple topic like high school graduation rates. Most urban school systems, those that are homes to many of our dropout factories, will say their official graduation rates are in the 80 – 90 percent range (offering a convoluted formula of who counts, who doesn’t, and such). Talk to high school critics like Jay Greene, and those same grad rates will be 20 – 25 percent lower. Same data, different formulas, severely different results.
Over at Fortune magazine, the editors are profiling the “visionaries” of the rebirth of Detroit. One of the Motor City stars highlighted in the piece is Carol Goss, head of Detroit’s Skillman Foundation. The profile on Goss and what she is trying to do in the city is interesting. But what is even more interesting is the sidebar of Detroit education statistics offered with the piece (a sidebar found in August 16 edition of Fortune magazine, but not on the web version.)
According to Fortune, Detroit Public Schools has:
* 84,600 students enrolled in 2009, compared to 167,000 in 2000
* The 2008-2009 graduation rate for high school seniors was 60 percent
* The new high school graduation rate target for DPS is 90 percent
* Currently, 2 percent of Detroit public high school students are prepared for college-level math
* 11 percent of high school students are prepared for college-level reading
* 35 percent of Detroit’s high school students are accepted to postsecondary institutions
Eduflack does not repost these numbers to embarrass Detroit, its schools, or its teachers. To the contrary, I offer up these very frank and honest numbers as hopeful inspiration for school improvement across the nation. The President of the United States has set a national goal of producing the highest number of college graduates per capita by 2020. The US Department of Education is pledging to rewrite the Elementary and Secondary Education Act so that is ensures that each and every child is college and career ready. And virtually every education reformer has promised to improve graduation rates, while boosting student achievement across the board.
Real change cannot happen if we don’t have solid, reliable baselines to know exactly where we are starting. These startling numbers of Detroit’s college readiness show all where the city’s schools truly are starting from. As an honest starting line, it allows Detroit to document real progress. Instead of using inflated grad rates and soft measures of proficiency, Detroit tried a new approach for K-12 public education. Brutal honesty. Shock us with the truth, and we may just trust your progress in the out years.
Eduflack has long been a fan of the improvements Robert Bobb has tried to make in Detroit. And I’d love to believe Fortune that Goss “has the money and credibility to win people over.” So let’s remember these numbers when Detroit offers up its progress reports in a year or three (particularly after Michigan has implemented Common Core Standards). And let’s start the watch to see if other other urban districts are willing to perform a similar statistical strip show, offering up ever blemish. Only then will we ever be able to truly declare mission accomplished in our communal quest to improve our public schools.