No, the percentage of kids graduating hasn't gone up, but after years of prodding by reformers on the left and right - especially Jay Greene, the Education Trust, and the Urban Institute - 45 governors have committed to a common formula for calculating the rates themselves. Worth celebrating, yes, but turning their promise into reality will be no small task. While doing the math differently is easy, building the kinds of comprehensive data systems required is not. Perhaps the most striking aspect of the governors' announcement was the show of support for state-to-state comparisons from two presidential contenders (one from each party). Outgoing NGA chair and Virginia Democratic governor Mark Warner explained: "Right now, different states have different definitions. So how can we make valid comparisons? And if you can't compare, how do we validate who has the best practices?" Meanwhile, incoming NGA chair and Arkansas Republican governor Mike Huckabee analogized the current patchwork system of differing state definitions to a basketball game, with one team shooting at an 8-foot-high basket and another shooting at a 10-foot basket. "We should all be shooting at a 10-foot basket," he said. "This will give us the ability to honestly know how well we are doing compared to the other states." Amen. But the same point could be made about differing state academic standards, proficiency cut-offs, and the wildly variable expectations children in different parts of the country now face. Mr. and Mr. Candidate: How about signing on to national standards and tests, too?
"Governors endorse a standard formula for graduation rates," by Michael Janofsky, New York Times, July 18, 2005
"Governors, national organizations reach agreement on graduation rate," National Governors Association News Release, July 17, 2005