Heated words over Pinellas' black male grad rate
The black male graduation rate in Pinellas County, long a sore spot, inspired heated words again Wednesday at a meeting to discuss black student achievement.
Former school board candidate Jim Jackson questioned whether the rate was as high as the district is claiming, which drew a strong rebuke from attorney Roger Plata, who is co-counsel for the plaintiffs in the long-running desegregation case against the Pinellas school district.
"Wow, suddenly in three years, we have jumped up 30 something percent," Jackson said at a meeting of the Concerned Organizations for Quality Education for Black Students, which meets regularly and draws community members and district officials. "It's so unacceptable."
"I'm sorry sir, but that's really outrageous," countered Plata, whose group has pressured the district to improve black student achievement. That's "demeaning to the mentors and the teachers and the principals ... to all the people who are working extremely hard to have success."
At issue are two competing graduation rate formulas, and a massive loophole in how Florida calculates its grad rates.
According to a national report from the Schott Foundation for Public Education, Pinellas' grad rate for black males was 21 percent in 2008, the lowest of any big school district in the country.
According the Pinellas school district, the grad rate for black males was 57.5 percent in 2010, up from 47.3 percent in 2008. The district's numbers are based on the official state formula.
The Schott report has been panned as overly simplistic and wildly misleading. (The district's detailed response to it is here.) Plata called it "utter, complete garbage" and said the district's numbers are a "true rate."
"So in terms of the figures you can rely on, the 57 percent figure is the figure," he said.
But as even Florida's education commissioner admits, the state's formula is problematic. It excludes thousands of students who transferred into adult education programs and who often drop out once they're there, if they show up at all.
According to a St. Petersburg Times analysis in December, the state's rate drops from 79 percent to 73.3 percent once those students are put back into the mix. Pinellas's rate drops from 78 to 70.7 percent.
It's not clear how much those adult education transfers would deflate Pinellas' black male graduation rate. We asked the district for that information a little bit ago and we'll share it with you if and when we get it.
But it's not a stretch to suggest that the black male figures in Pinellas would probably drop as much if not further than the overall rate - so in actuality be closer to 50 percent. As a group, they struggle more, and it seems likely that a disproportionate percentage of them are transferred to adult ed.
That's not to say the rate isn't improving. It also appears likely that, like Florida's overall grad rate, the rate for black males in Pinellas is nowhere near where everybody wants it to be, but still getting better, no matter which formula is used.