If you read a story about the school attendance controversy somewhere other than Plunderbund you will regularly see reporters’ use of negative language: cheating, rigging, fraud, false, unethical, harmful, etc.

We’re calling bullshit.

Sadly, this reporting has not been limited to the state’s print media, but has even carried over to StateImpact Ohio, an affiliate of NPR.  We would expect at least one education reporter to display a touch of initiative and curiosity to investigate the plausibility of this story to uncover the simple facts as we continually report them.  At this point, Ohio Auditor Dave Yost is one of the few involved in the investigation that is beginning to understand that the idea that there is a systemic issue does not mean that we have a systemic cheating scandal on our hands, but that the systemic problem originates with the Ohio Department of Education.  Once again, contrary to published reports that allege cheating at ODE, we do not allege any cheating on their part.  We still promote the position that there exists a lack of clarity in the ODE guidelines and state laws.

As long as reporters keep publishing their articles in a contest to see who can publish the most negative spin, we’ll continue to post the real story about the factual details surrounding attendance regulations in Ohio.  We’ll also keep bringing you hard-core statistics as the ones we detail below to emphasize the ease with which data can be freely obtained from the official Ohio Department of Education website to provide simple comparisons for school districts and screen for potential irregularities in attendance reporting, most specifically the item at the center of this investigation — withdrawals.

Today’s post is inspired by a central Ohio newspaper that revealed that some suburban districts stated that they have not engaged in the process of withdrawing truant students from their districts.  Shocking that wealthier suburban districts would not have the same problems with student mobility, truancy, and attendance, isn’t it?  But just as it’s considered bad form to compare urban vs. suburban district test scores, so is it improper to compare their attendance rates, especially withdrawals.  Ohio’s urban districts are flooded with revolving-door charter schools, a factor that suburban districts don’t have to deal with.

To cement this point about looking at similar districts, the ODE website actually provides — at the simple click of a mouse — a list of “comparison districts” for each and every district around the state to use when evaluating district performance.

So first, let’s compare the withdrawal percentage of Ohio’s large urban districts.  The figures in the table below represent the total number of reported withdrawals (excluding dropouts) divided by the total student enrollment to give us a percentage for comparison.  Two years of data are shown below, along with a summary of the attendance for all seven districts.


Notice that Toledo and Columbus, the two districts at the center of this story, had the exact same withdrawal percentage (27%) for 2010-11, a figure only slightly above the combined total for Ohio’s large urbans (25%).  Furthermore, neither has the highest percentage in either of the two years.  Also notable is the consistency of the numbers from one year to the next, with Toledo actually experiencing the largest change, but also reporting a huge drop in overall enrollment, a number that would support the increased number of withdrawals.  So in this comparison group, no district stands out as being that unusual, especially when compared to the state totals.

Let’s look at another comparison group for each district that may provide a better comparison: charter schools within the school districts’ boundaries.

First the table for Columbus.  Charter schools are listed first with the district numbers (as seen above) listed at the bottom. Click to enlarge the table in a new window.

In a comparison of schools enrolling students from the same geographic area, the charter schools report a withdrawal percentage of 47%, nearly twice the rate of the city school district.  But the most important point to be made from this data is this: who do you think is also affected by such high turnover in the charters?  The local school district who must welcome those students back through their doors when the charter fails to meet their expectations.

Either that, or the charters are rigging their attendance in even greater numbers, right?

The gap in Toledo is actually closer, but the reported figures still result in a withdrawal number that is 10% higher for the charter schools.

We absolutely affirm our stance that the districts are not engaging in improper actions and that the state guidelines advocate for the withdrawal of truant students, supported by existing state law.

Even if we did suspect that schools were engaging in “fraudulent” behaviors, we would take some time to do basic research to confirm or refute our suspicions.  Not a single data set that we have seen leads us suspect any public school district of engaging in any unusual activity.

As for the charter schools, we would probably start digging a little deeper.