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[Susan notes: Houston whistle blower Robert Kimball asks the questions that should be asked.]

Published in Houston Chronicle
11/06/2006

To the editor

THE Chronicle's Oct. 30 article "Criminal scope of HISD dropout scandal set to unfold" was another reminder of how the district attorney refused to hold senior administrators in the Houston Independent School District accountable for the dropout scandal. The DA asked a Harris County grand jury to indict only one person who is alleged to have changed the codes on a computer to reflect that HISD had zero dropouts for 2001-2002.



Reviewing HISD's record on reporting dropouts provides evidence that senior administrators were responsible for the underreporting of dropouts in HISD. In 2005, I provided ample evidence to the DA to warrant an investigation into the involvement of senior administrators in the dropout scandal. HISD's improvement plan for 2003 gave the following objective for the district: The districtwide annual dropout rate will decrease from 1.5 percent to 1.3 percent.



When this kind of objective is issued, principals are expected to meet it, as they are on a one-year contract, and if they fail to meet objectives, they are subject to removal. HISD's intention was to require principals to keep the dropout rate low so that more schools could achieve a recognized or exemplary rating and to improve the district's overall rating. Dr. Margaret Stroud issued a directive to principals in 2002, which said, "Make sure you do not have students coded 99. This is not an acceptable code for TEA and is a red flag for a state audit." This code is given when a student's whereabouts are unknown, and it results in the student being counted as a dropout.



This directive ordered principals to recode those students with a code 99 so they would not be counted as dropouts. In February 2003, the media exposed the false reporting of dropout data. Although three high schools had reported zero dropouts, the superintendent, Dr. Kaye Stripling, only required an investigation at Sharpstown High School in an obvious effort to limit the scope of the investigation and control damage.



TEA conducted its investigation in March 2003 and issued a report which said there were code irregularities at 12 high schools and four middle schools.



The report stated it was the district's responsibility to ensure that campuses' staff was properly instructed on applying codes. TEA directed that the ratings of 16 schools in HISD be lowered.



So why is the one person who did not submit or sign any reports to TEA claiming zero dropouts being made the fall guy?



The principal and an assistant principal signed the reports certifying that the school had zero dropouts, and two deputy superintendents either directed schools to report unrealistic dropout rates or told them to change the codes that would count students as dropouts.



Accountability should begin at the top, not at the bottom.



Robert H. Kimball


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