Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel reported during a campaign speech earlier this year that 70% of all students in the district were graduating high school, a percentage that has since been found to be grossly inflated.
The Better Government Association and WBEZ conducted a months-long investigation into the subject, discovering through CPS records obtained under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act that at least 2,200 students from 25 separate high schools were reported as “transfers” between 2011 and 2014 when they were actually dropouts.
It is not clear how long this practice has been going on in the district, although it is believed it could have been occurring long before Emanuel became mayor.
Transfers do not count toward the graduation rate for the district. However, dropouts do, which means the 69.4% graduation rate Emanuel boasted about during his speech earlier this year is not the true percentage.
If all the students in the district were accounted for correctly, the graduation rate would drop to 67%. Even then, the true rate could still be lower, as it is based on a 25% sampling of students in the 140 charter and non-charter high schools in the district.
Officials for Chicago Public Schools have since confirmed the investigation’s findings, going on to say there are problems with accounting in the district. The officials said that there are currently no plans to go back and revise the graduation rate, nor were they created in an effort to make Emanuel look better. “The mayor is absolutely interested in making sure we have accurate data,” said John Barker, CPS’ chief accountability officer.
Emanuel released a statement late Tuesday that said in part: “No one questions the facts: more CPS students are graduating than ever before, those students are more prepared for their futures and we’re making huge strides in helping struggling kids graduate.”
According to CPS, the graduation rate, which was at 58.3% when Emanuel first became mayor in 2011, has since risen to 65.4% as of 2013. CPS attributes this rise to the special attention paid to incoming freshmen after a study discovered that high school students were more likely to graduate on time if they perform well in their freshman year.
John Barker, CPS’ chief accountability officer, reported a number of steps the district plans to take in order to correctly identify dropouts. This includes a system that would audit school records, as well as additional training for clerks and other staff members who will be completing the paperwork after students leave the schools.
He added that he plans to see if there is a way to change the computer system so that students cannot be entered as transfers without proper documentation.