Letter: School district’s dropout statistics are misleading

Letter to the editor

By on Sat, March 18, 2006

By Ken Johnson

When the Half Moon Bay Review, the Cabrillo Unified School District, and CUSD Superintendent John Bayless intersect; there can be casualties. The first is truth. The second is student education. The third is good old-fashioned common sense.

This was the case in the Review’s editorial on 8 March 2006. The editorial misled the public about the true status of CUSD student achievement, graduation and dropout rates. In an attempt to provide a clearer picture of reality, I wrote a “Letter to the Editor”, which was published in this week’s Review. The editor also chose to include an “Editor’s note” citing information from CUSD Superintendent Bayless which further misled the public.

I got involved with the question of inaccurate graduation and dropout rates a couple of years ago. I went to a CUSD Board meeting with charts in hand showing a far different picture than the District was claming. I presented them to Superintendent Bayless for “review” before the meeting began. He objected to their accuracy and offered to review them in detail. I played along, having already concluded he needed to be treated as if he were a ‘hostile witness—know the answer to any question before you ask it’. His email response to me on Wed 03-Mar-04 10:03 was:

“The number is correct, but unfortunately the interpretation is not.  The number that is represented is the number that is derived from California Basic Educational Data System (CBEDS) which is a number that is collected in early October.  Unfortunately for Cabrillo Unified School District, during the 2000-2001 school year, a number of our seniors left before the end of the year. We are able to identify where these students went, what occurred and why they left in the winter and spring. …”

[Superintendent Bayless ‘made the email public’ at a subsequent board meeting. He was apparently unaware that email to and from a public agency is already a discoverable document under the public records act.]

I had already done the research confirming that this was a pattern that stretched back as far as data was available and presented them to the School Board. They were not pleased with exploding another myth!

Today, school districts are held accountable for senior graduation rates and the passing rate on the CAHSEE exam is very visible in the media. That is why a senior class size of 279 students seemed so suspicious. Last year, as juniors, they were a class of 317 students; and three years ago when they started High School, hopeful of the future, there were 316 students in the class of 2006. Enrolment had actually increased from their freshman year to their junior year.

Given this background, the Editor’s note seems particularly curious: “He [Bayless] notes that some students leave the school over the course of their academic careers - some returning to Mexico - and that explains why some incoming freshmen do not graduate at Half Moon Bay High School.”

Shouldn’t someone have spotted such a relatively large group, 12% of last year’s junior class—with all their belongings—heading to the Mexico border?
The Editor’s note continued: “He [Bayless] points to state figures showing fewer than 1 percent of students dropped out in the 2003-04 school year, the last for which figures are available.”

The note didn’t mention that it was CUSD that first reported TO the state on how many students were dropouts! The report was completed by CUSD on the “School Information Form, October 2003” Section F lines 32 – 37.

Heard of ‘circular reasoning’? Arrogance? Insulting the public’s intelligence? Accountability?

Do you love “coincidences and irony” with a righteous ending? You may recall that in February of 2005, CUSD Superintendent John Bayless was interviewing for the school superintendent job in Somerville, Massachusetts. It was a shame that Bayless didn’t seize the opportunity to take the healthy walk over to the “Civil Rights Project at Harvard University” (CRP). He might have gotten a prerelease autographed copy of “Confronting the Graduation Rate Crisis in California” as his own school district (CUSD) was the prototypical example in the study. Bayless “withdrew” from consideration just hours before he was to have his final interview!

Ken Johnson