Thanks to some extensive data collecting by Strive Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky (See the “2009 Striving Together: Report Card”), I just got a chance to compare some performance measures such as high school graduation rates and ACT scores for Kentucky Catholic Schools to those of nearby public schools.
In Northern Kentucky, Catholic Schools offer the major school choice option for those who can afford it. It’s clear in the graph above why many parents take this school choice option, but there are some additional surprises, as well.
First, note that the Covington Diocese, which covers Northern Kentucky, runs away with the best-by-far Freshman Graduation Rate. This rate is the ratio of graduates in the 2007-08 school year (counts obtained from the Graduation Rate Excel spreadsheet here)to the number of freshmen who entered each school system as ninth graders in the 2004-05 term (which can be found in the Excel 2004-05 “Growth Factor Ethnic Membership” spreadsheet here).
Keep in mind that this rate tends to return figures a couple of points below the true graduation rate because of a lot of kids who are held back in the ninth grade, but federal research indicates that this approximation calculation is still among the most accurate available.
The Catholic system also outperforms on the ACT college entrance test.
The graph also shows the percentage of disadvantaged kids in each system, which is derived from the percentage of kids who are eligible for the federal free and reduced cost lunch program. Clearly, most of the Catholic students are well-to-do compared to the public school memberships.
However, here is the first surprise. The Ludlow Independent schools have a much higher school lunch rate than either the Kenton County or Campbell County school systems, but Ludlow does a much better job of graduating its students.
Also, note that Ludlow’s ACT college entrance test Composite Score is quite competitive with other public school systems, as well. Clearly, Ludlow is a district worth watching. Also, as Ludlow borders Covington, it could even be a system of choice for parents of modest means who have the ability to move to this relatively low housing cost area.
In any event, it is clear that while the Covington and Newport Independent school districts face strong poverty issues, that they have a long way to go in educating their students successfully. Graduation rates and ACT scores in both systems are way below what they need to be.
One more note on transparency of data. Covington and Newport both provided a “graduation rate” to the Strive folks. These are based on the “official” calculation used by the Kentucky Department of Education. Covington reported a graduation rate of 90 percent, and Newport claimed a rate of 81 percent.
Notice the sharp contrast to the graduation rates in the graph above. While federally research indicates the rates shown in the graph above are probably a bit low (though they are calculated in the same way the Catholic system uses, so the comparison is fair), there is no reasonable way that the rates in the graph can be so far off from the rates Covington and Newport provided to Strive.
In fact, when the data underlying these rates from Covington were audited in 2006, the finding was that the data was grossly under-reporting the true seriousness of the situation.
For example, Covington had twice as many dropouts as they owned up to, and Newport had five times as many. Because dropouts are used to calculate the Kentucky Department of Education’s untrustworthy graduation rates, the result was that graduation rates for both school systems were grossly overstated by the “official” numbers.
Yet, the deception continues three years later. These bogus numbers even showed up in the new Strive report, though Strive warns not to try to compare them to the graduation rate for the Catholic system.