Lisa Falkenberg of the Houston Chronicle went after Rick Perry for last week saying dropout rates in Texas aren’t that bad. Perry claimed they were around 10% and Falkenberg’s article claimed they were really upwards of 30% and that Perry’s claim was testing the already loose truth standards in gubernatorial campaigns. Falkenberg’s analysis and quote choices leave the reader with the impression that Rick Perry on dropout rates is like the uncle who drinks too much at the Christmas party and starts making up stories. Is this true?

Dropout rates are calculated in many different ways, all producing different results. The two ways relevant to Falkenberg’s story are the attrition rate and the completion rate.
The attrition rate compares the number of people who start the 9th grade against the number who graduate on time and produces the highest percentage of all measures. The Texas Education Agency’s latest numbers available through their website are for the Texas class of 2008. Their attrition rate was 28.7%, close enough to the article’s suggestion. However, attrition rates include people who graduate early, people who earn a GED, and students not graduating on time.

Perry was referring to the Texas Education Agency’s preferred measure, completion rates, which carve out early graduates, GED earners, and students not graduating on time since these groups aren’t “dropouts” in any recognizable sense. The class of 2008 completion rate was 89.5%, with 10.5% dropouts.

You decide, given the context, whether Perry or Falkenberg better survive a look at the numbers.

Aren’t these numbers beside the point? Has Perry ever encouraged anyone not to finish school? Has a single Texas citizen desiring an education lacked the opportunity under Perry? What does Falkenberg suggest the Governor do to people who don‘t want to finish school whose families don’t apply enough pressure to make them? Throw them in jail? Freeze their assets? Drag the entire system down to coax would-be dropouts to stay?

The culture of freedom we love in Texas includes the freedom to be lazy and unproductive. We want everyone to maximize their potential, but by choice. We’ve all known people who just wouldn’t do the right thing in life and it was never the Governor’s fault.