Administration questions state’s ‘dropout’ statistics

Published 9:39 am Thursday, November 1, 2007

By By ERIKA PICKLES and JOHN EBY / Niles Daily Star
NILES – According to an analysis done by the U.S. Department of Education enrollment data conducted by Johns Hopkins University for The Associated Press, Brandywine High School was labeled one of 78 Michigan high school "dropout factories."
This means, according to the study, that these schools have a high number of dropout rates. This is something that has a few school administrators upset because they do not believe a lot of things were taken into consideration when the study was done.
"I honestly don't know where they are getting their data from," Brandywine superintendent John Jarpe said Wednesday morning. Brandywine High School Principal Greg Jones was also confused, especially since the dropout rate in 2005 was only 1.68.
"We do not have the numbers for 2006 yet and probably won't for a while still. We follow of the guidelines, which are commuted by the state of Michigan's formula. I just don't see how they are putting labels on schools like this," Jones said.
Brandywine's graduation rate for 2005-06 was 93.34 percent, while the individual class retention was 98.32.
Other area schools who were also labeled as "dropout factories" were Benton Harbor, Covert, Coloma, Dowagiac, Hartford and South Haven.
Johns Hopkins studied high schools nationwide, including public, private and parochial dropout rates and, based on that three-year period labeled schools "dropout factories."
The Detroit News said data tracked senior classes for three years in a row to make sure local events, such as plant and business closing, weren't to blame for low retention rates.
Such studies are suspect because they track incoming and graduating classes by total numbers – not by individual students.
"I think they are taking entering freshman and counting the ones who do not finish as a senior at our school. If that freshman did not make it all four years at Brandywine, but did complete high school somewhere else, then they are considering a dropout," Jarpe said.
Which is why some administrators are wondering how a study like this could have even been done.
"They could have moved to another part of the state or country. They could go to schools of choice. They could go to an alternative or vocational school. There are too many factors that could be possible," Jarpe added.
Dowagiac Superintendent Peg Stowers also said she doesn't think the data is correct.
"We're not making excuses, we're just saying it's not true. Simply not true. Our people in Dowagiac work too hard and are too good to be dragged through any kind of data mud this way. We're the biggest school district in Cass County with the most diversified demographics. We're a microcosm of a large city in many ways socio-economically. Edwardsburg, Cassopolis and Marcellus are much different. We fit the profile of a more urban district inside this little-bitty county. Cass County is, statewide, one of the highest-poverty counties in Michigan," Stowers said.
Dowagiac is identified as having a 58-percent retention rate and 42-percent dropout rate by the study, which went on to list the percentages of minorities (20.11 percent) and students receiving free and reduced lunch (41.98).
Dowagiac reported 3.01 percent for the same three-year period.
Standard &Poor's had named Dowagiac one of 43 districts – 8.4 percent of Michigan's 512 districts – that outperformed demographically similar school districts in reading and math proficiency for 2003-04 and for 2004-05.
About 1,700 regular or vocational high schools – or more than one in 10 nationwide – fit the dropout factory description, according to the study.
Each year, Michigan High Schools must provide Michigan enrollment data for grades 9-12.
The state, which collects data all 12 months to account for students showing up in other districts, then adjusts the dropout rate accordingly.
" I want to talk to the people who did the study. Its erroneous to label schools a dropout factory. If we have a student who stays in Niles, lives here and attends school in Brandywine, we do our best to make sure the student graduates and doesn't drop out. However, we cannot control if the family moves or the student attends a school of choice and I think that is the case with this study," Jarpe added.