Diplomas of Duplicity, Revisited

“That’s one of the things that gives me a great peace about leaving.” So spoke Tommy Bice, Alabama’s outgoing superintendent of education, about the graduation rate of public-school students in our state on a recent appearance on Alabama Public Television’s Capitol Journal. That something which should induce nightmares is being spun as imparting “great peace” only further illustrates the duplicitousness that I wrote about in an essay earlier this month, “Diplomas of Duplicity.”

The thesis of that essay was that the nearly 90% graduation rate of public-school students in Alabama will go down as the most pernicious failure of the Bice superintendency. And so it will. This essay is merely an addendum, to clarify and amplify a portion of the evidence adduced therein, given data since released by the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama (PARCA).

I wrote that “more than two dozen high schools in Alabama—with a combined graduation rate of 83%—could have graduated a group of students without a single one of those graduates being college-ready.” The reason for the conditional “could” was that my conclusion, as I noted, rested on an assumption that the test scores of tenth-graders could be imputed to graduates. But never mind. We now know the test scores of the graduates themselves, thanks to PARCA, which has published the school-level results of the ACT for 2015. An emendation is in order: forty high schools in Alabama—with a combined graduation rate of 84%—graduated a group of students without a single one of those graduates being college-ready.

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During his Capitol Journal appearance, Bice proclaimed, “I think one of the major things you do when you are in a leadership position is own the brutal facts.” Hereunder are forty brutal facts for Bice to own from the 2014–2015 school year:

— Akron Community School (Hale County) had a 96% graduation rate, with 0% of its graduates ready for college.

— Aliceville High School (Pickens County) had a 92% graduation rate, with 0% of its graduates ready for college.

— Amelia L. Johnson High School (Marengo County) had an 89% graduation rate, with 0% of its graduates ready for college.

— Autaugaville School (Autauga County) had an 80% graduation rate, with 0% of its graduates ready for college.

— Barbour County High School (Barbour County) had an 83% graduation rate, with 0% of its graduates ready for college.

— Bessemer City High School (Bessemer City) had a 72% graduation rate, with 0% of its graduates ready for college.

— Bullock County High School (Bullock County) had an 86% graduation rate, with 0% of its graduates ready for college.

— Calhoun High School (Lowndes County) had an 81% graduation rate, with 0% of its graduates ready for college.

— Central High School (Lowndes County) had an 85% graduation rate, with 0% of its graduates ready for college.

— Central High School (Tuscaloosa City) had an 82% graduation rate, with 0% of its graduates ready for college.

— Chickasaw City High School (Chickasaw City) had an 80% graduation rate, with 0% of its graduates ready for college.

— Choctaw County High School (Choctaw County) had an 83% graduation rate, with 0% of its graduates ready for college.

— Collinsville High School (Dekalb County) had an 87% graduation rate, with 0% of its graduates ready for college.

— Francis Marion High School (Perry County) had a 97% graduation rate, with 0% of its graduates ready for college.

— Gaylesville High School (Cherokee County) had a 69% graduation rate, with 0% of its graduates ready for college.

— Georgiana School (Butler County) had a 94% graduation rate, with 0% of its graduates ready for college.

— Greene County High School (Greene County) had an 85% graduation rate, with 0% of its graduates ready for college.

— Huffman High School–Magnet (Birmingham City) had an 80% graduation rate, with 0% of its graduates ready for college.

— J.O. Johnson High School (Huntsville City) had an 88% graduation rate, with 0% of its graduates ready for college.

— Keith Middle/High School (Dallas County) had an 89% graduation rate, with 0% of its graduates ready for college.

— Lanett Senior High School (Lanett City) had an 88% graduation rate, with 0% of its graduates ready for college.

— Lanier Senior High School (Montgomery County) had a 71% graduation rate, with 0% of its graduates ready for college.

— Lillie B. Williamson High School (Mobile County) had an 81% graduation rate, with 0% of its graduates ready for college.

— Linden High School (Linden City) had a 94% graduation rate, with 0% of its graduates ready for college.

— Maplesville High School (Chilton County) had a 94% graduation rate, with 0% of its graduates ready for college.

— Marengo High School (Marengo County) had a 96% graduation rate, with 0% of its graduates ready for college.

— McIntosh High School (Washington County) had an 87% graduation rate, with 0% of its graduates ready for college.

— McKenzie High School (Butler County) had a 93% graduation rate, with 0% of its graduates ready for college.

— Midfield High School (Midfield City) had an 84% graduation rate, with 0% of its graduates ready for college.

— Parker High School (Birmingham City) had an 81% graduation rate, with 0% of its graduates ready for college.

— Robert C. Hatch High School (Perry County) had a 98% graduation rate, with 0% of its graduates ready for college.

— Southside High School (Dallas County) had a 92% graduation rate, with 0% of its graduates ready for college.

— Sunshine High School (Hale County) had a 96% graduation rate, with 0% of its graduates ready for college.

— Talladega County Central High (Talladega County) had a 100% graduation rate, with 0% of its graduates ready for college.

— Tanner High School (Limestone County) had a 90% graduation rate, with 0% of its graduates ready for college.

— Thorsby High School (Chilton County) had an 88% graduation rate, with 0% of its graduates ready for college.

— Washington County High School (Washington County) had a 90% graduation rate, with 0% of its graduates ready for college.

— Waterloo High School (Lauderdale County) had an 83% graduation rate, with 0% of its graduates ready for college.

— Wilcox Central High School (Wilcox County) had an 87% graduation rate, with 0% of its graduates ready for college.

— Winterboro High School (Talladega County) had a 95% graduation rate, with 0% of its graduates ready for college.

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Two points from my earlier essay are worth repeating. First, the ACT’s definition of college readiness is not a very high benchmark. It merely means, in an era of grade inflation, “about a 75% chance of obtaining a C or higher in the corresponding credit-bearing college courses.” Second, these forty schools might be at the bottom of all schools in terms of graduating students who are ready for college, but they are most certainly not outliers. Other schools graduate one student college-ready, two students college-ready, three students college-ready, and so on, with incongruously high graduation rates.

In short, the duplicity on display here—how can a school have a 100% graduation rate yet have no graduates ready for college?—is endemic in the public-school system of Alabama.