"We're number 49!" she says, far too fucking cheerfully.
It's Spring Break. We generally do not have to deal with one another mornings, or not for long, and certainly not when one of us has had her coffee and the other is deprived and has one leg throbbing like The Only Vibrator in Texas. One of us is out of practice. Her. It is not a time for jolly games.
"We're number 49...
"Th' fuck of what?"
"Graduation rates. IPS was 49th out of 50th."
"Fuck fuckin' fifty fuckin' what? Compared to who?" I do not actually sound this coherent, or this sweet.
"I didn't pay attention. I think Detroit was last."
"I don't know."
I've been married for many years, often happily, and yet it still is a goddam struggle sometimes to stand on a recently surgically repaired leg with too much goddam Republican low-angled Daylight Savings Time coming through the kitchen windows and make happy talk with my dear spouse who happens to be standing directly between me and the Oster four-slot that promises to give me enough AM ballast that I can take the hydrocodone I'm near ready to kill for. But I'm trying.
This is doubly so when the topic is Goddam Stupid Public Education Posturing.
I eventually got toast, painkillers, coffee, and as much of the story as had sunk into her right-hemisphere-dominated world: we were #49, and she had no further idea of how either axis of the chart had been labeled, or by whom, and it was on some morning cable or local news show, she was not sure which, because. as you may already be aware, she flips through channels faster than the goddam infrared can travel from the remote to the set. Cool blue ocean, cool blue ocean.
And I was a little busy, but I looked at the Racist Star online, as they'll rarely miss an opportunity to dump on the urban division of our largely Klan-organized central Indiana schools, but there wasn't anything there, and I eventually forgot about it and concentrated more on incapacitating bone pain.
Then we spent the better part of the afternoon buying a new washing machine (Whirlpool™ Cabrio, a top-loader with a wash plate instead of an agitator, the capacity of a moderately-sized airplane hangar, and a bigger price tag than our oven), in which task we were assisted by a woman with the kinetic mannerisms of a pair of caged hamsters and a Latin word tattooed across her hand in what I believe was Highschool Amateur Uncial Bold Extended. I resisted the urge to ask her about it.
So I had pretty much forgotten everything by the time we got home and switched on local news, and then (cue Channel 13)...
Dropout rates at Indianapolis Public Schools are back in the national spotlight again and for all the wrong reasons.
A new reform campaign ranks the city nearly dead last among major cities in graduating students, the 30.5 percent graduation rate trailing only Detroit in the national survey. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell is leading the group that is sounding the alarm about the issue.
"It is not just a crisis, it is a catastrophe," he said.
Colin Powell. Nice to see ya, General. Glad you found something to lie about in the private sector.
Don't you have a massacre somewhere you're supposed to be covering up? Motherfucker. Indianapolis Public Schools could dish up Sugar-Coated Heroin Pops™ at lunch every day and teach nothing but Sass Mouth, Midriff Exposure, and Oral Sex Techniques for the next seventy-five years and not do as much damage to the country as Colin Powell has accomplished all by himself in forty.
So, of course, the "findings" of the "study" done by his non-profit
Okay, let's back up a minute. I'm not sure Channel 13 actually mentioned the name of any Four Star Professional Liars directly responsible for the deaths of four thousand men and women of the United States armed forces through an act he later attempted to atone for by directing elite squads of public relations executives to clear his own name. That part came from the online story. On air we were much too busy making cotton candy to bother noting where the sugar was coming from, or wondering why it smelled like that.
There was a mention of America's Promise Alliance, the organization Powell founded just after his Thompsonesque Am-I-A-Republican-Or-A-Democrat, Will-I-Run-For-President-Or-Won't-I routine closed in tryouts. So, being more curious than your average professional news-gathering operation, I hied myself over to their website and was repaid by coming face to face with Tim Russert without warning.
Now, I don't want to leave an impression of bias here, but just for starters we've got an organization which is founded by America's Most Tainted career military officer, one which somehow has the juice to get national exposure for a vaguely preposterous report on the morning of its release, and which has attracted the tax-deductible participation of noted parochial school bully Tim Russert. It's nothing I could put my finger on, but I was beginning to feel a mite uneasy. This was compounded by the fact that by now I'd found the online report at Channel 13, and discovered that IPS ranks next-to-last by virtue of its thirty percent graduation rate. This is the state's largest school system. Okay, so admittedly the only education most Hoosiers need is the smarts to move someplace else, but still--if 70% of our school students are dropping out before graduating from high school it's a wonder you can drive past any of the buildings without spotting one or two jumping from windows in an effort to beat the rush. I know a thing or two about Indianapolis Public Schools, and I think I can say without contradiction that attendance is so bad you couldn't possibly identify that many students as IPS property.
Of course this calls for a serious perusal of the methodology of the study, and of course I'm not really any more willing to do that than local news was, so I click on the Board of Directors link for some good ad hominem material. Though first I'll share with you another vial of suspicious-looking material:
Dropout rates are often controversial with districts using their own formulas to calculate the numbers.
"Whether you agree with a particular number or not is not relevant, the trend is real," Powell said.
Which was followed in less time than it takes to return one's jaw to its normal position by:
Using the Indiana Department of Education's formula, 46.1 percent of IPS students graduated last year. On their web site, the district claims a 51 percent graduation rate.
So we've got to ask, first, why we should be worrying about public education at all when basic math competence and the ability to construct a coherent English sentence, or punctuate one, are not required for positions where those skills would seem to the outside observer to be of central importance?
Before we scan that Board of Director's list let's take a moment to be fair. Perhaps the Powells and the other post-expiration-date Reagan teat munchers on it are genuinely concerned about helping Our Nation's Youth and improving Her Schools, towards which ends they are selflessly donating their time and expertise. In that spirit we're sure Secretary Powell will make himself available, and candidly expansive, to a hand-selected coterie of fourth-tier Clinton functionaries, Enron whistle-blowers, 60s militants, disgruntled AOL employees, and former audiologists tasked with examining his military and government records and deciding which dank hellhole he should spend the rest of his charitable career in.
Russert. Judy Woodruff. Jean Case. Marguerite W. Kondracke. Neil Bush. The one-time Nixon/Bush I functionary who helped create the Points of Light Foundation, and the former Shell CEO who now heads it. The guy who lost to Rick Santorum. Everyone who's run The United Way over the past two decades without landing in prison. Cal Ripken, Jr., because you need somebody who'll show up for every meeting, and Michael Jordan, because you need somebody who knows the Latest Line. Two Ph.D brandishers (I admit to a certain let-down there), one CFA, and the Rev. Dr. Wilson Goode, previously best known for the impromptu street barbecue he threw for MOVE as mayor of Philadelphia. My personal favorite, former Indianapolis mayor and disgruntled Bush administration faith-based associate sinecure Stephen Goldsmith, who's now brave enough to use his own name instead of the alias he used to feloniously vote under back when all the bad guys of Indy were after his Eagle Scout Prosecutor ass, and a man who had eight years to do something about Indianapolis Public Schools and didn't. (He did propose we simply turn everything over to his enormous brain, but that was his answer for everything.) And Joel Klein, Chancellor of NYC schools and Scourge of Featherbedding Union Teachers, because out of three dozen people you need at least one who might've entered a public school at some point after sixth grade.
The board bios yielded this, a harbinger of the study's reliability:
In addition to her many service-minded activities, Mrs. Powell has added "author" to her list of credits.
Though it falls a few quotation marks short of perfection in my book.
Okay, the study. Reasonable people who aren't employed by local news might well question how we figure out 70% of IPS students don't graduate, seeing as how the ear-tagging program for free-range African Americans is yet in its infancy. Well, the answer is compound: 1) we don't and 2) it doesn't matter, the trend is real. The rates themselves are determined by something called the Cumulative Promotion Index (CPI), developed by something called the Urban Institute (KKK). Let's go ahead and quote the definition; I sure can't top it:
This method assumes that graduation is a process composed of three grade-to-grade promotion transitions (9 to 10, 10 to 11, and 11 to 12), in addition to the graduation event (grade 12 to diploma). Each of the transitions is calculated as a probability by dividing the enrollment of the later year by the enrollment of the previous year. For example, the grade 9 to grade 10 promotion would be calculated by dividing grade 10 enrollment in one year by grade 9 enrollment from the previous year. These separate probabilities are then multiplied to produce the probability that a student in the school system will graduate.
This measure counts only students receiving regular high school diplomas as graduates and the data represent estimated grade-level cohorts rather than true cohorts of individual students. By multiplying grade-specific promotion ratios together, the Cumulative Promotion Index (CPI) estimates the likelihood that a ninth grader from a particular school system will complete high school with a regular diploma in four years given the conditions prevailing in that school system during that school year.
Since the data used in this calculation are collected at the school district level, the CPI is calculated at the school district level, and a weighted average of the values is used for the state and nation.
I admit I'm nothing more than a half-curious amateur, but I'll be damned if I can think of a better way to convey an unfamiliarity with the nation's urban school population that borders on contempt while sounding scientificesque.
Let's back up. You can read the Cities in Crisis report here (Warning: not just a .pdf file, but one of those that presumably adjusts to the size of your monitor to give you the full effect of trying to read a billboard from close up). We're going to skip specific instances of grammatical torture, though it's interesting to note that paragraph one debunks a piece of "conventional wisdom", and paragraph two immediate cites "that same conventional wisdom" approvingly. Vertigo added fifteen minutes to my reading time.
Paragraph three begins:
This report takes a geographically-informed approach to the issue of high school completion. [emphasis mine]
So focusing the Laser Beam of Sneering Opprobrium strictly on the nation's urban school districts is "geographically-informed". This is the same argument whereby country clubs that exclude Jews are known as "exclusive".
As we might've mentioned once or twice here, there are eleven school districts in Indianapolis, the fossilized remains of the Klan-ruled segregated schools of the 1920s and the White Flight schools of the 50s and beyond. Indianapolis Public Schools is the largest district in the city, but the majority of public school students in the city of Indianapolis do not attend IPS.
This is not a plea to leaven IPS graduation rates with the addition of suburban schools; some of them don't fare a hell of a lot better. It's to suggest that in a situation where moving two miles away, or registering a student with grandma's address, can switch a child's district (and thus count him as a "non-graduate") is, well, a tad suspicious. I don't know about any of the rest of America's Most Urban Jungles (I fell asleep during the long exposition of how they came to choose the failingest district in each instance), but in Indianapolis this is not exactly an esoteric point in the education biz.
Look, I'm a First Amendment almost-absolutist, and I'm not without human sympathy. I realize there are a lot of lifelong Republican flunkies, revolving door fillers, beneficiaries of Reagan-era affirmative action for well-born idiots, charity sinecures, professional panders, trophy wives, trophy husbands, and ex-athlete attention junkies who are hurting out there, wondering where their next tax break is going to come from, or how they'll manage to write off ten dinners a week with a Liberal colored man in the Oval Office. And I'd like to say to them, you know, if you're so fucking concerned maybe you could take some of your own billions and help some children, or maybe you could work to create a more just and equitable world where urban children had a reason to believe in school or work or much else, or maybe you could just stop using your influence to provide fact-free content for an easily persuaded crypto-racist demographic that's half-convinced it shouldn't be footing the bill to educate Those People anyway. But then, I like to think I'm a realist, so let's just forget it. If teevee news can brighten the day of just one unreconstructed bigot, and convince him to keep voicing his opinions on newspaper message boards, your efforts will have be termed a success. Provided he sobers up in time to make it to the polls.