Great Places, Great Faces, Great Evasion! OIG Busts South Dakota (And The Department)

As ES’ Kevin Carey noted recently in this report, there seems to be some gaming of No Child Left Behind’s requirements going on…A new Office of the Inspector General report from the Department of Education indicates that South Dakota is playing fast and loose with graduation rate reporting.

Couple of takeaways from the report that go beyond South Dakota:

  • The definitional issues the report walks through are instructive as to how integral they are to grad rate reporting. Who is included, not included, for instance GEDs, can substantially change the rates.
  • The different ways to define this show why getting good rates can seem like nailing jello to a wall. This shows how messy this data is, that’s a fact of life, but it then is exacerbated when states play fast and loose on reporting.
  • Turns out the Department of Ed did approve the method that the Inspector General now says doesn’t pass muster for South Dakota. That’s a big issue buried in this report. Someone needs to draw a line here, either it’s going to be more standardized definitions legislated from Congress (which I have concerns about), better enforcement (still an open question), or a purely results-based system in which case a different kind of political will to enforce becomes part of the equation and a bunch of complicated enforcement questions are back on the table.

Regarding the last point, if I were a Democratic member of Congress who supports NCLB and wanted to score some points off this administration, I might be demanding a more wide-ranging audit here. In how many state plans has the Department of Ed approved things that don’t meet the letter or the spirit of the law? Seems like a, what do they call it again…an issue.

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