In Kentucky – Some Data Is Top Secret
In New Jersey even the governor is getting serious about the critical problem of high public school dropout rates. He is spearheading a new effort to cut the number of kids who don’t graduate from high school.
And, in an interesting twist, because low graduation rates impact a lot more than the school system, the New Jersey effort is being headed by that state’s attorney general’s office! After all, the attorney general’s staff is too often responsible for the “follow-on activity” for kids who don’t make it through high school, and the legal system knows the problems with these kids best, so why shouldn’t they be in charge?
Clearly, New Jersey’s chief executive gets it; kids who drop out of school too often head into a life of crime, which adds huge fiscal and social expenses to the state. And, the New Jersey department of education, after many years of primary responsibility for fixing the problem, needs a replacement as effort leader.
If naysayers in New Jersey want to undermine their governor’s alarm, they certainly could use Kentucky as an example. According to the latest calculations from the federal government, in the 2005-06 school year New Jersey had a public high school graduation rate of 84.8 percent while Kentucky’s rate was notably lower at 77.6 percent. If Kentucky had matched New Jersey’s graduation rate for that school year, we’d have had over 3,500 more high school graduates and that many fewer dropouts. This would have added almost 10 percent to the size of the Kentucky Class of 2006 while significantly reducing the potential burden on our fast-growing penal system. Unfortunately, if history is any guide, instead we must plan for the probable addition of thousands more to our prison roles.
By the way, because the Bluegrass Institute just published our report on white and black graduation rate and academic gaps in Jefferson County, I wanted to see what the new federal report showed for disaggregated rates for racial groups.
I was wasting my time.
Kentucky was one of only four states that decided to keep this data from the feds. Since our overall graduation rate increased from 2002-03 to 2005-06 in the federal report, one has to wonder why our white, Hispanic, and black rates were kept secret. Of course, after looking at our new report’s findings for Louisville, maybe the answer is already obvious.
Maybe it’s time for Governor Beshear to take a lead from New Jersey’s chief executive by setting up a real effort to look at graduation rates, one that will go after accurate and fully transparent data that includes all students, just as Kentucky committed to do in the National Governors’ Association several years ago. And, since the education leaders in Kentucky don’t seem to be delivering for all kids, this effort should also be headed by a group, like the state attorney general’s office, which has to deal with the consequences of what the school system isn’t accomplishing.