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As adults, some of the best ways to teach kids is to model good behavior.

At Thursday’s board meeting, you will hear the breathless and excited delivery of the statistic that “our graduation rate has gone up by 500 students in the last two years! ”  The presentation that will be made to the board on Thursday, August 18 is here.

By the way, did you know that you can see agendas, minutes, presentations and more on Board Docs?  Look for the link called “DPS Board documents, etc.” on the right-hand side of this page.

The cover of Westword's recent exposé about the credit recovery system in DPS

The cover of Westword's recent exposé about the credit recovery system in DPS

But I’m not so sure about that statistic.

Let me be clear.  I am very proud of DPS’ graduates, regardless of where they are.  Our graduates are achieving this milestone while faced with considerable pressure.  Their families support them in these turbulent economic times, often facing foreclosure and transience.  Most of them qualify for free and reduced lunch, or in other words, come from low-income homes.  A good chunk of them come from homes in which English is likely not spoken much, if at all.  In short, our graduates are survivors, made of the same stuff as scrappy French, Spanish and American pioneers in Colorado.

Additionally, lots of credit needs to be given to their parents, who provide for their kids under considerable duress, who insert themselves into their students’ education lives whether they themselves were successful in school or not, and who show these young people the value of hard work and a good education.

This is not to say that parents of students who take longer or who find different paths or who don’t even cross the finish line aren’t any less committed.  They are still a valued part of the fabric of DPS, and often these are the kids most hurt by large class sizes and weakened student support services.

I would be remiss in forgetting the teachers and collaborative principals that are also woven into this fabric.  These are the ones that got into this game because of love for kids and for our democracy.  These are the ones that bear the brunt of the whims of politicians that dabble in education policy who mostly have never taught or have held a teacher’s or principal’s certification.  In spite of the roadblocks we politicians keep throwing in front of them, in spite of the cowardice in having a real discussion about what a good education actually costs, and in spite of the scapegoating and blame game, they keep plugging along, managing to make a difference in the lives of their students.

No, the real DPS heroes are all these people.  So please don’t interpret what’s coming next as any sort of disparaging remark about our students, parents, teachers or principals that lead by collaboration.

On Tuesday, August 2, Superintendent Tom Boasberg released a statement about a hike in graduation rates over the last two years.  Some of the numbers he cited caused me to dig a little deeper, given the penchant for careless statistical reporting (see last year’s post about fudging the dropout rates).

So I sent him an email, asking for clarification, on Thursday, August 4.  To date, he has not even given me the courtesy of acknowledging my email, nor has his chief of staff.

In the press release, Superintendent Boasberg cited a preliminary Class of 2011 population of 3373, and he said  this number represents an increase of 4% from 2010.

However, when I look at the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) data (this link downloads a spreadsheet), “Graduation Rates For the class of 2010,”  it shows a total graduating population of 2,634.

Now, I’m not a math whiz, but 4% of 3373 is about 135.  If I subtract 135 from 3373, I get 3238.  This is a difference of 604 from CDE’s numbers.

Further, when I look at our own numbers from DPS Planning (2009/10 Graduation and Completer Report), we only graduated 2634, which would substantiate my calculations.

On top of all this, he cites that Abe Lincoln graduated 377, yet Planning shows 208.  So I wonder which number is correct.  So I said in my email:

It appears that, while we are accurately reporting our data to CDE via the Planning Department’s reports, you are actually reporting to the public something completely different.  Would you please justify this?  Perhaps there’s a subtlety that I’m not understanding…I have been known to be obtuse.

Now, there is a twist here.  The CDE recently changed the way it calculates “graduates.”  For them, there is a distinction between “graduate” and “completer,”  They say:

Graduation Rates.Graduation rates are calculated based on high school graduates only. A graduate is a student who completed locally-defined requirements for graduation. If a student is not considered a graduate by the local board of education, then he/she is not included in the graduation rate calculation.

Completer Rates. Completer rates are calculated based on all students who are graduates, plus those who are not considered graduates but receive another certificate or designation of high school completion.

This would assume that the completer rate would be a larger number.  If you look at the spreadsheet, the completer rate is a larger number.  So maybe it justifies Tom Boasberg’s number?

It does not. It doesn’t match. Why the discrepancy? Why report the real numbers to CDE but tell the taxpaying public something completely different?

Why is this a big deal? Simply put, when we prevaricate, we are focusing more on happy talk than in making that graduation or completer rate larger and more meaningful.  When we’re not honest about the real situation, we cheat kids of our best effort, and we waste your hard-earned tax dollars that are the shared sacrifice for the good of Denver’s kids.

In addition to fudging these numbers, Mr. Boasberg’s statement chirps about, “… the increase in graduates is coupled with an increase in the rigor of the district’s college-readiness curriculum.” And yet, Westword recently broke the story of the scandal of how the administration of North High School’s credit recovery program has been fraught with negligence and flat-out corruption, making a diploma from North not worth the paper it’s printed on. And worse, this credit recovery system is being used throughout the district, even though we have perfectly good contract schools like Life Skills Center of Denver that could teach us a thing or two about best practices.

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty weary of this type of prevarication for no good reason other than to save face. It serves no one, not students, teachers, parents, well-meaning central administration staff, taxpaying public…no one except the Superintendent.  It hurts our kids.

This status quo has to stop.  The spin machine has to stop.  Anyone that tells you we’re on the right track is lying to you, and most of all, is lying to our kids.  Denver’s kids need us to model the good behavior of telling the truth. We owe Denver’s kids that much, at least.