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January 11, 2004


The reason we have Bush's No Child Left Behind is because of the Houston School District's astounding success - a reported zero dropout rate over a period of two years.

Simply amazing. A Texas Miracle, as candidate Bush called it. He promoted Houston Schools Superintendent Rod Paige to Education Secretary on the back of it (Turns out he was rewarded for covering up a big fat fucking lie. ... But I am profane.).

Too bad it was also too good to be true. Sixty Minutes II (on Wednesdays) had
quite a story on it. I rarely watch the program (though will tonight regarding Paul O' Neill.)

And it all came to light when one assistant principal took a close look at his school’s phenomenally low dropout rates – and found that they were just too good to be true.

“I was shocked. I said, ‘How can that be,’” says Robert Kimball, an assistant principal at Sharpstown High School, on Houston’s West side. His own school claimed that no students – not a single one – had dropped out in 2001-2002.

But that’s not what Kimball saw: “I had been at the high school for three years, and I had seen many, many students, several hundred a year, go out the door. And I knew that they were quitting. They told me they were quitting.
At that time, Paige was running Houston’s schools, and he had instituted a policy of holding principals accountable for how their students did. Principals worked under one-year contracts, and each year, the school district set strict goals in areas like dropout rates and test scores.

Principals who met the goals got cash bonuses of up to $5,000, and other perks. Those who fell short were transferred, demoted or forced out.
60 Minutes II also tried to talk to Paige himself, but he declined. His spokesman said the dropout controversy broke after Paige left Houston to become education secretary. And he said the phony statistics at Sharpstown were the work of a few individuals.

Paige’s spokesman suggested that 60 Minutes II talk to Jay Greene, a leading expert on dropouts at the Manhattan Institute. Greene supports the kind of accountability reforms Paige enacted in Houston.

But this is what Greene said when asked what he thought about Houston’s “official” dropout rates: “I find that very hard to believe. It is almost certainly not true. I think it’s simply implausible. I think a reasonable guess is that almost half of Houston’s students do not graduate from high school.”
And in the case of whistle-blower Kimball, school officials have denounced him as incompetent, and transferred him to a primary school for kindergarten through second grade, where he is the second assistant principal.

“The district felt that, by sending me down there, somebody who’s taught at university level, taught at high school level, and middle school level, would be humiliated at a low primary school, but I’m telling you that I love it,” says Kimball, who adds he isn’t going to quit.