Apr 15 2014

Arne Debunkin’

A little over three years ago, I first encountered Arne Duncan when he spoke at the TFA 20 year alumni summit and described the miracle school Urban Prep.  He implied that this school had a 100% graduation rate and a 100% college acceptance rate, which inspired me to investigate this clam leading to my very first school debunking.  My research became a part of the ‘game changing’ (as Duncan likes to say) NY Times Op-Ed by Diane Ravitch, Waiting for a School Miracle.

Since that Op-Ed, politicians, including Duncan, have been a bit more careful with their miracle school claims.  I suppose that Duncan felt it was safe to go back into the water when I saw him tweet, the other day:


I followed the link to the ed week blog, which began with the paragraph:  “A high school graduation rate of 100 percent is quite a feat. At Stapleton High School in Denver, not only will all seniors earn a diploma this spring—each one has been admitted to a four-year college or university, according to a press release issued last week. And it’s not a fluke. This has been the case every year since 2008, for the school, where 40 percent of the racially and ethnically diverse student population comes from low-income families.”

So, let’s see, the opening sentence “A high school graduation rate of 100 percent is quite a feat.”  Actually it depends on what they mean by a 100 percent graduation rate.  If they mean a 100 percent ‘cohort’ rate, meaning that all the students who began as 9th graders three years earlier, eventually graduated, then yes, that would be something.  But if they just mean that all the seniors graduated, then that isn’t so much of a feat.  Also, notice that this school is far from qualifying as a 90-90-90 school since the school, according to the article Duncan cites, has just 40 percent of the school come from low-income families.

Colorado is one of the better states for having a lot of school data publicly available.  So I looked into the enrollments for the past four years at this school.  Within a few minutes I learned that this school there were 144 9th graders in 2011, 129 10th graders in 2012, 98 11th graders in 2013, and now 89 12th graders in 2014.  So their cohort graduation rate is more like 62%.

Doing these school debunkings is definitely an annoying task, but I’m glad that Duncan was able to come up with a miracle school this time that was so easy to do.

11 Responses

  1. Arne Debunkin’ | Genius Pioneer linked to this post.
  2. WriteToThink

    God bless you! Thank you for making the time to write and share this.

  3. Kay Martin

    I really enjoy your blog. I’m a parent of two school-age girls, ages 6 and 8. Was wondering if you’re the same Gary who lived on Westcott St. in Houston in roughly 1993?

    • Gary Rubinstein

      Sorry, I lived by memorial drive on Gibson Street and then Sandman Ave. Good to hear from you anyway!

  4. Gus W

    Thanks for fact checking Duncan. We know PR is a big part of getting voters to swallow bad policy, but Duncan is fairly honest in answering some questions. When asked what role private corporations play in public education, he was clear that he had his hand out, taking private money to compensate for the fact that, under his leadership, our schools are vastly underfunded.

  5. jokefest

    Thanks for your continued great work on exposing the “data” that Secretary Duncan conveniently ignores. It is interesting to note that with their 62% cohort graduation rate, this school is dangerously close to being a “dropout factory”– a favorite phrase of “reformers” to describe high schools with graduation rates under 60%.

  6. Jeannie Kaplan

    Interestingly, Denver’s flagship PUBLIC high school, East High School, had a higher graduation rate according to the district’s own calculations than this school. 92% to 87%. And not surprisingly some of those missing 55 students (144 – 89) end up at East High School. Finally, this Stapleton high school is, you guessed it, a charter school.

  7. Colorado Teacher

    So I would like to know how many of the 40% kids of poverty in this cohort were in the 12th grade at graduation time? That info is probably protected by FERPA.

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By a somewhat frustrated 1991 alum

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