Why question the improved graduation rate of Texas Public Schools?

When given the opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments of thousands of Texas educators and literally hundreds of thousands of the state’s graduating seniors, the Longview News Journal chooses to assume the numbers are wrong and endorse the idea that school district administrators are being dishonest. Prompted by Texas Association of Business, Bill Hammond: the LNJ editorial in Thursday’s paper (http://www.news-journal.com/news/2015/sep/02/editorial-states-graduation-rate-tale-isnt-the-ful/) describes how 15,000 high school students were listed as “home school” leavers in 2014. The editor finds this number to be inaccurate. This data driven opinion is based on the following excerpt: “One thing we know about high school seniors is that they are not going to switch to home schooling in their last year and miss all those parties and all that attention.” That is not a compelling argument for dismissing the improvement shown by so many in the Texas Public School System. Throwing a number out there for the readers to be shocked at is always a good way to create interest/distrust.

The editor would also have the reader believe that schools take the word of the student that they will be home schooled. At White Oak ISD and many, if not all, public schools, there is a procedure for withdrawing to home school which includes the signature of the parent/guardian stating the student will be home schooled and a requirement to list the curriculum that will be used in this process.

I believe it is important to address this issue in human terms, not just numbers and percentages. Students that leave the district are not just numbers or percentages. They have names and stories that are unique to the individual. There is not an acceptable drop out rate for our public schools. Any of us that set our sites on less than a 100% success rate do a disservice to the students, parents/guardians and taxpayers of the community. The 15,000 students at the center of this discussion chose home school as an option to not be a drop out, according to the data provided by school districts across the state. That number represents 3.8% of the incoming 9th grade students in the 2009 school year to those looking to question the data. That number, 15,000, represents names and faces of young people and parents that, in many cases, found themselves in difficult situations, requiring difficult decisions be made in the moment, with only the information available at the time.   Could some of the students misrepresent their circumstance? Yes. Could some of the parents have allowed their student to make poor choices? Yes. This would be the exception, not the rule.

The positive work being done by students, teachers, and school leaders deserves to be highlighted in the media. There are several places you can go to find good news about the public school system and the dedicated people that serve the needs of students every day. Resources like:

Friends of Texas Public Schools (http://fotps.org/)

Jamie Vollmer (http://www.jamievollmer.com/)

Raise Your Hand Texas (http://www.raiseyourhandtexas.org/)

These three sites are filled with good information about the work of the Texas Public Schools and Public Schools across the country. Cohorts of leaders in the public schools are working tirelessly to transform the education students receive in the classroom everyday. These are the stories we promote and hopefully, the News-Journal will continue to celebrate on the “East Texas” page in their publication.

The editor states that he would rather celebrate the accuracy of the data than the success of the students, which highlights a fundamental difference between teachers and the media. At White Oak ISD and districts all over the state, our choice is to celebrate the success of our students.