The New York Times has recently run two fascinating stories with implications for local schools. One article is about states’ tendency to inflate their graduation rates when answering to Washington under No Child Left Behind:

Like Mississippi, many states use an inflated graduation rate for federal reporting requirements under the No Child Left Behind law and a different one at home. As a result, researchers say, federal figures obscure a dropout epidemic so severe that only about 70 percent of the one million American students who start ninth grade each year graduate four years later.

California, for example, sends to Washington an official graduation rate of 83 percent but reports an estimated 67 percent on a state Web site. Delaware reported 84 percent to the federal government but publicized four lower rates at home.

The multiple rates have many causes. Some states have long obscured their real numbers to avoid embarrassment. Others have only recently developed data-tracking systems that allow them to follow dropouts accurately.

The No Child law is also at fault. The law set ambitious goals, enforced through sanctions, to make every student proficient in math and reading. But it established no national school completion goals.

The gap between what schools report and the real dropout rates has riled San Diego Unified Superintendent Terry Grier, who has pledged to reduce dropouts in San Diego schools. In one of his first public appearances in San Diego, Grier lambasted the reported dropout rate, saying the numbers didn’t add up.

What’s more, California has set slow-moving goals for improving graduation rates, the NYT writes:

The law also allowed states to establish their own goals for improving graduation rates. Many set them low. Nevada, for instance, pledged to get just 50 percent of its students to graduate on time. And since the law required no annual measures of progress, California proposed that even a one-tenth of 1 percent annual improvement in its graduation rate should suffice.

Daniel J. Losen, who has studied dropout reporting for the Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles, said he once pointed out to a state official that, at that pace, it would take California 500 years to meet its graduation goal.

“In California, we’re patient,” Mr. Losen recalled the official saying.

The second article, published today with a San Diego dateline, highlights families who choose not to vaccinate their children, focusing on a recent outbreak of measles at San Diego Cooperative Charter School. Among the 12 sickened children, nine weren’t inoculated because their parents objected to vaccinations, the NYT writes. The other three were too young to be vaccinated. The vaccination skeptics are part of a small but growing trend in California and other states where parents can choose not to inoculate their kids:

Every state allows medical exemptions, and most permit exemptions based on religious practices. But an increasing number of the vaccine skeptics belong to a different group — those who object to the inoculations because of their personal beliefs, often related to an unproven notion that vaccines are linked to autism and other disorders.

Twenty states, including California, Ohio and Texas, allow some kind of personal exemption, according to a tally by the Johns Hopkins University.

“I refuse to sacrifice my children for the greater good,” said Sybil Carlson, whose 6-year-old son goes to school with several of the children hit by the measles outbreak here. The boy is immunized against some diseases but not measles, Ms. Carlson said, while his 3-year-old brother has had just one shot, protecting him against meningitis.

“When I began to read about vaccines and how they work,” she said, “I saw medical studies, not given to use by the mainstream media, connecting them with neurological disorders, asthma and immunology.”

Ms. Carlson said she understood what was at stake. “I cannot deny that my child can put someone else at risk,” she said.

EMILY ALPERT

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