Thursday Reading List: Graduation Rates, Vouchers, #1000BlackGirlBooks, and Science Fairs

Grace Tatter at Chalkbeat revisits a story about graduation rates in Tennessee and finds inconsistencies:

When Chad Moorehead saw that Tennessee’s education department had concluded that a third of graduates received a diploma without meeting the state’s requirements, his first instinct was to find out how many of his own students had fallen through the cracks ... he went through all of his students’ transcripts by hand. He couldn’t find a single one who had gotten an undeserved diploma. Department officials said he was right. They had counted students who took math and English at a local community college as not having taken those courses at all. While state officials continue to check districts’ data, it appears that more than 70 percent of what looked like missing requirements were in fact data errors.

First of all, I'm glad there's more and more real investigative reporting in education these days, because this is the sort of massive inconsistency that might never have been uncovered without sustained, local reporting. Second, this story also reveals the extent to which "graduation rate" is a fungible metric. Whether or not someone graduated from high school depends on course completion, attendance, and a host of other factors, few of which are truly standardized.

In other news, Hayley Glatter of The Atlantic looked at research on a school voucher program in Louisiana and found counterintuitive results:

Eighty percent of the 1,741 students in the study’s sample are black, and [researchers] explained that in many cases, families were opting out of public schools that were overwhelmingly African American to begin with. These students’ departures, because of the skewed demographics that exist as a result of decades of de facto and de jure segregation laws, left the public schools less racially stratified as a result ... On top of that, early evidence on student achievement also points to negative outcomes for families that took advantage of the vouchers. According to a report on LSP conducted by the Brookings Institution last May, students who relocated to private schools via the vouchers recorded lower scores on standardized math and reading assessments: After one year in private school, a child who scored in the 50th percentile for math in his public school declined to the 34th percentile.

Glatter emphasizes that one of the takeaways about the study ought to be that it's nearly impossible to generalize school choice programs, as each one is so context-dependent. Still, the notion that a voucher program might increase racial integration, while depressing student achievement is bound to challenge the assumptions of education professionals, across wildly different political perspectives.

Speaking of collecting various perspectives, remember Marley Dias, the student who started #1000BlackGirlBooks? As Yesha Callahan at The Root discovered, she's writing one of her own:

Marley launched #1000BlackGirlBooks with the help of the Philadelphia-based GrassROOTS Community Foundation Super Camp, which was founded by Marley’s mother, Janice, along with the Roots’ Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter. In total, Marley donated 1,000 books to Retreat School in the Parish of Saint Mary, Jamaica, where her mother grew up, as well as the Henry C. Lea School in Philadelphia, Speedway Academies in Newark, N.J., Renzuli Academy in Connecticut and St. Cloud Elementary in West Orange, N.J. Since that effort, Marley has been everywhere, from doing a stint as an editor for Elle.com that included her own mini zine Marley Mag to public speaking engagements and being honored at BET’s Black Girls Rock! with a MAD (Making a Difference) Award. It’s safe to say Marley isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. But now she wants to make a bigger impact in the world of social justice by teaching kids and teens activism by publishing an activism guide with Scholastic.

That's great news!

Finally, as Steve Lohr of The New York Times finds, corporate sponsors are changing how they think about science fairs:

The science fair has been an annual rite of education for generations of students, going back to the 1940s. But even the term “science fair” stirs stereotypical images of three-panel display boards and baking-soda volcanoes. Its regimented routines can seem stodgy at a time when young people are flocking to more freewheeling forums for scientific creativity, like software hackathons and hardware engineering Maker Faires. That is apparently the thinking at Intel, the giant computer chip maker, which is retreating from its longtime sponsorship of science fairs for high school students.

The underlying story here seems to be that companies are gravitating away from the careful rigor of the scientific method, and towards the rapid prototyping and design ethos of the software engineering world. I don't know enough to make a value judgment about whether that's a good or bad thing, but it's a trend worth watching. Have a great day!