So, the high-school graduation rate of 67 percent is the third worst among the states, saved from being at the very bottom only by Nevada, 62 percent, and New Mexico, 63.
Actually, in the comparison by the U.S. Department of Education using a new standardized measurement formula applying to everybody instead of the old method where states could invent their own rules for how long four years actually lasted, Georgia is fifth worst. Washington, D.C., came in at 59 percent and the Bureau of Indian Education, 61.
The only thing new to trigger the latest moaning is how Georgia compares. That 67 percent was revealed months ago. And, after a decades-long drumbeat of anemic educational scores, statewide, on various scholastic tests, not to mention the General Assembly stripping billions of dollars away from public education and a notoriously high dropout rate, what did Georgians expect: to come out as the best of the worst instead of almost the worst of the worst?
Moreover, if young Georgians as a whole are barely better off than if they were living on an Indian reservation, classroom-wise or in valuing the importance of sticking it out in school, then it might be wise to recall that Greater Rome — part of the old Cherokee Nation — is an exception to the rule.
Which, by the way, is not to say its graduation numbers are outstanding: Only 100 percent, in a society/economy where this is now considered the minimal learning attainment for adequate job chances (and citizenship participation), should be applauded.
NONETHELESS, as detailed when the individual school figures were released this past spring, Rome High did best in this vicinity with its 76.52 percent or just above the national average. It was followed by Pepperell at 75.83, Armuchee at 73.42, Model at 69.64 and Coosa at 67.39.
By the way, it is worth remembering that if a place like Rome High did about 10 points better than the state norm that means some other school, or an equivalent number of students, had to do 10 points worse than 67 percent for this state “average” to balance out. Scary.
Citizens should also feel sorry for educators as a whole, and John Barge, the state school superintendent, who are left trying to explain this or, even harder, why 67 percent is a relative improvement. Seriously. Back when the last governor, Sonny Perdue, left office bragging that the state’s graduation rate had hit 82 percent it actually was, under the national standard now applied, about 58.6 percent. Georgia was one of several states fudging their count, as was then allowed and now is not.
Indeed, the only change behind the new numbers: Four years to graduate high school means four years, period, and not some extended time frame for getting a diploma so long as it is before death. For example, the way it works now if a senior fails a course or gets an incomplete in his/her final semester and must return to summer school to finish up they are counted among those that “didn’t make it on time.”
NOR, AS SOME young people may need to be informed, is such a four-year timeframe unusual. That used to be the norm a few decades back, before various societal changes and diminished expectations – and maybe … but only maybe -- more difficult coursework. Same with going to college. Anybody not getting a degree in four years had to be … well, maybe a little on the dumb side or a lot on the lazy side.
All that has really occurred in this new way of figuring graduation is going back to prior expectations and ceasing to compare apples to oranges. The truly difficult part for Barge and others is trying to explain that all apples are not alike – Red Delicious (sweet) and Granny Smith (tart) do not taste the same but both are apple varieties.
In this counting standard only time (apple) matters but the content taught/required (variety) can be very different from state to state. For example, Georgia requires four math units to graduate; other states demand only three. Some states cut students with disabilities some slack, allowing them to graduate based on different standards. Georgia once did this, too, but no longer. All students are required to jump the same hurdles.
This results in a notable downward drag on those graduation numbers as well as raising some unaddressed societal problems that wash over into education, as so many external factors now do.
When Georgia’s graduation-in-four-year numbers are broken down into demographic elements the result is Asians 79 percent, whites 76 percent, blacks 60 percent, economically disadvantaged 59 percent, Hispanics 58 percent, limited English 32 percent, with disabilities 30 percent.
ALSO INFORMATIVE as to the “drag” doubtless created on the Georgia graduation percentage is when considering what this measurement means regarding this state’s competitiveness in attracting new investment and industry, much of which depends upon a “bright enough to do the job” workforce at least as much as it does affordable wages and low taxation.
Georgia is bordered by states with better graduation rates based on this new way of figuring. Way, way better in some cases: Tennessee 86 percent, North Carolina 78, Florida 74.5, South Carolina 74, Alabama 72. And if the economy is indeed global, then a better-educated workforce is plainly to be found in the European Union where all the nations average 85 percent.
Also going largely unrecognized, oddly so in a state where so much is heard about “no more taxes” and “government spends too much,” is that Georgia’s low graduation rate costs a whole lot of extra money. That old 82 percent “ultimate” high-school graduation cited by Perdue is not in error. However it is achieved with catch-up courses, do-overs, summer schools, alternative schools, adult education and similar that would otherwise not be necessary if the student had gotten a diploma in the expected four years. There’s a lot of tax money involved that otherwise would not have had to be spent or could have been put into the regular classrooms … and size of the mainstream teaching corps.
And while the current graduation rates may trigger a search for “somebody to blame” the reality is that much of this comes from what might be called changes in the times, changes in parenting intensity, changes in what students spend their time doing. Which gets more hours of attention nowadays: Shakespeare or video games? Anyone can answer that question.
THAT GEORGIA’S bottom-dwelling graduation ranking cannot continue is obvious. Similarly evident is that the rate itself would rise if only more attention were paid to a more-realistic approach to students with disabilities and stronger support of teaching English as a second language.
Then would come the hard part: Changing the culture and attitudes of many parents and young people alike that allow a lackadaisical approach to a normal goal of attainment in life that long has taken no more than four years.