Much has been made about a state report seeming to indicate that one third of Tennessee’s high school graduates finished school without meeting state minimum requirements.
The initial release of the report caused alarm, of course. Then, the state walked back the numbers after admitting a data error.
Alexander Russo takes a look at the report and the surrounding news coverage and comes to this conclusion:
The state issued a bad number without carefully considering its flaws or making them clear to reporters and board members, then belatedly realized its mistake and walked the initial figure back. But news outlets contributed to the problem by rushing to report the initial figure without questioning just how iffy it might be, unintentionally delivering inaccurate information to the public. The end result has been widespread confusion that will take a long time to clear up – if it ever is.
While Russo suggests media outlets should have done a better job of both raising questions and seeking clarifying information, he notes the state bears the brunt of the responsibility:
To be clear, the state department should have checked with the districts before presenting this information to the board and to the public. The state should also have anticipated that the graduation rate number would attract enormous amounts of attention and include additional warnings and caveats about the preliminary nature of the number. The primary responsibility was theirs.
The Tennessee Education Association pointed to the state’s responsibility to release accurate data and noted that the initial claims may have helped advance the arguments of school privatization advocates.
From a TEA press release:
Organizations backing privatization schemes like private school vouchers, rapid charter expansion and high-stakes testing, need people to believe that public schools are failing. Undermining confidence in public schools is an important step to build support for radical and dangerous proposals to destroy public education.
“As a state that consistently ranks at the bottom in student investment, we are consistently in the top 10 for graduation rate because of the commitment of Tennessee educators. Our students and teachers already often have the odds stacked against them, they don’t need damaging misinformation piling anything else on,” [TEA Executive Director] Crowder said.
To be sure, both the initial data release and the subsequent reporting created a sense of alarm in the state’s education policy community. Taking just a few extra steps could have prevented what turned into a rather messy scene.
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