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Whistle-Blower Tells Houston to Face Up to Reality


Ohanian Comment: So how will the U. S. Secretary of Education deal with this second paragraph? And the rest?

I used to believe that integrity was the most important character trait of a leader. Poet Maya Angelou has written that courage is more important because, she argues, without courage, you will never act on your sense of integrity.

Perhaps this is why school administrators, the Houston Independent School District superintendent and our HISD board of trustees, all good people, failed to speak up when they knew for years the district's figures for dropout rates were a lie.

Superintendent Kaye Stripling and many board members have publicly stated that the dropout rate was between 20 percent and 40 percent; yet they never stopped the schools and the district from reporting [to the Texas Education Agency] zero or less than 2 percent dropout rates.

As a result of my reporting that dropout data was being falsified at Sharpstown High School, TEA decided to investigate the dropout data at 18 schools. Initially, HISD denied any dropout reporting problems and reported that, if there were any, this was due to a clerical error. TEA decided to punish almost 90 percent of the schools they investigated by lowering their ratings. If they had investigated all schools, it is possible that almost 90 percent of schools would have been penalized for inaccurate reporting of dropout data.

HISD's response to this crisis -- that perhaps more than 8,000 students had dropped out of school in one year -- was to inform the media that only one school, Sharpstown Senior High, and a few persons were responsible for the data quality problem.

HISD insists that computer network specialist Kenneth Cuadra actually changed the codes on 30 students on his own. As the business manager at Sharpstown, I had no responsibility for students or any dropout data, but one day last October Cuadra shared with me his concern that dropout data was being falsified.

Cuadra came to me with his concern because of my reputation as a man of integrity. Numerous documents clearly illustrate that others were responsible for reporting dropout information. After I reported to the Sharpstown principal that dropout data was being falsified, she signed a letter to me stating that she never gave me permission to look at the dropout data for 2001/2002.

When I reported the alleged crime, falsifying dropout data, to HISD's West District superintendent, she transferred me out of Sharpstown High School on the same day I reported it to her. Superintendent Stripling sent me a personal letter stating that my transfer was not disciplinary or retaliatory.

After leaving Sharpstown, I was assigned to sit in an office at the West District office for four months and given nothing to do. Today, although I am paid a salary of $60,000 and have the title of assistant principal, my duties consist of serving as a teacher's aide in a primary school in HISD with students between the ages of 4 and 8.

I knew there would be consequences for telling the truth. But I never expected my integrity and reputation as a leader to be attacked. The district has reprimanded me for failing to provide oversight to one person, Kenneth Cuadra.

One person? I served for 24 years as a leader in the Army, supervising thousands of soldiers. In 1984, I helped lead a multinational force of 2,000 soldiers in a major airborne operation in Honduras to convince the leader of Nicaragua not to attack its neighbors. I have received medals and commendations for serving as a combat military leader for more than 24 years.

It is a disgrace for HISD to tarnish my reputation by charging that I failed to oversee one person -- a person I never had the authority to oversee -- to divert attention from the dropout problem.

It is disgraceful to punish those of us who had the integrity and the courage to report a crime against the children of HISD. Cuadra and I have had to spend thousands of dollars to defend ourselves against this retaliation for reporting the falsification of dropout data. The district has spent more than $500,000 paying for investigations when all it had to do was be honest and have the courage to admit that HISD had a data quality problem -- probably in every school in Houston.

I have appeared or will be appearing on major network programs, including CBS' 60 Minutes, and shows on PBS and CNN. Editors of professional journals have interviewed me and will be covering the story.

Many in the media are blaming Education Secretary Rod Paige and President George W. Bush for the fiasco in Houston. They deserve some of the blame. Their supporters argue that the two men are being blamed because it is an election year. However, voters have a duty to look at the record. The record shows that as governor, Bush was given educational reports that clearly stated that Texas' dropout rate was 1.6 percent and that 57 percent of those dropouts (in a 1998 report) were Hispanic. Paige served as an HISD board member and superintendent for many years and allowed dropout rates of less than 3 percent for HISD to be reported. Yet, neither of them has, to my knowledge, questioned the ridiculous rate or made public statements that suggested we had a crisis with the mass exodus of students before they complete high school in Texas.

I resent having to talk to the media and focusing negative attention on Houston.

Let's keep the focus where it belongs: HISD students, 90 percent of them minorities, need protection against a district that would deny them a high school education. Last week, Houstonians learned that 16 of 18 high schools in HISD were rated as needing improvement under the federal guidelines for the No Child Left Behind.

A few months ago, HISD leaders cheered the district's performance when 61 percent of 11th graders failed to pass all portions of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, or TAKS, required for graduation. If HISD has the same pass rate this year, it would mean that 61 percent of seniors will not be receiving a high school diploma in spite of completing all other academic requirements.

HISD claims we have closed the gap for minority students; however, last year there was almost a 300-point gap in SAT scores between African-American /Hispanic students and those of white students.

I hope HISD will soon come clean, face reality and have the courage to publicly address the real issues facing our community instead of claiming on a daily basis that they are the best urban district in the nation.

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Kimball, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, was an assistant principal at Sharpstown High School from 2000 to August 2003. After bringing suspect dropout figures at Sharpstown to the attention of Houston Independent School District officials, he was reassigned to an HISD elementary school with the title of assistant principal.

— Robert Kimball
Houston Chronicle
Coming Up Short: HISD whistle-blower: Face up to dropout reality

2003-09-12

http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/story.hts/editorial/outlook/2096039

TX


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