Tennessee Education Association

Great Public Schools for All Students


State's flawed graduation data advances "failing schools" narrative for privatizers

Flawed information damaging to schools is the last thing that should come from the state Department of Education. Yet there was a damning report released by the SDE on Tennessee’s graduation rate that turned out to be false. 

The state report claimed that approximately one-third of Tennessee high school graduates received a diploma without meeting the state’s requirements. The harmful report made headlines statewide and was even picked up in national news outlets.

“Our strong graduation rate is something our state really hangs its hat on,” said TEA Executive Director Carolyn Crowder. “For the department to tell our graduates that one-third didn’t properly earn their diplomas was a real blow to the reputation of our schools and the confidence of our educators who work so hard to help students graduate.”

Weeks after the state’s initial report was published, superintendents began questioning the statistics from their own districts. The state is now changing its story.

“We’re so small,” Chad Moorehead, superintendent of Moore County Schools, told Chalkbeat. “We usually have a pretty good handle on what our kids are doing. If we’re missing something in our one high school, I want to know what it is and how to fix it.”

As it turns out, Moore County wasn’t missing anything. The state’s report  indicated 38 percent of Moore County’s graduates did not meet state graduation requirements, but after thorough review by Moorehead those numbers were proven wrong.
The state is attributing its inaccurate report to data errors.  

“The question I have now is what damage has already been done by the state’s initial report that was so widely covered in the media?” Crowder said. “Our state is ground zero for privatizers attempting to convince Tennesseans and our elected officials that our public schools are failing. This inaccurate report played right into their narrative.”

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,” Crowder said.

If the state continues its obsession with data, it is crucial that it at least get the numbers right.

“The state department did this research, they got this alarming statistic,” Moorehead said to Chalkbeat. “Why didn’t they reach out to districts to check the data and start to solve the problem before announcing it to the world?”

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