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Misplaced school credit

Graduation rate figures released by the Indiana Department of Education last week showed continuing progress by Indiana schools. Statewide, the high school graduation rate has risen to 84 percent.

Some detractors have suggested the increase is the result of the recession; that students are staying in school because there are no jobs available. I doubt it. Poor job prospects won't dissuade dropout-prone students from making a bad decision.

Then there's political columnist Brian Howey, who hands credit for the steadily increasing rates to the state superintendent of public instruction. In a recent column on Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman's decision not to run for governor, Howey speculates on other possible candidates and points to State Superintendent Tony Bennett, "who has presided over an Indiana graduation rate that has reached 84 percent."

His observation displays a stunning lack of awareness of state education policy and data. Bennett took office in January of 2009, when students in the class of 2010 were halfway through their junior year of high school. The superintendent had nothing to do with the policies and measures that kept students on track for graduation the next year.

The effects of education policy take years to show results. If anyone deserves credit for the state's steadily climbing graduation rate, it would be Suellen Reed, Bennett's predecessor. She took office in 1993 -- when members of the class of 2010 were toddlers -- and is responsible for the policies that shaped their educational experience.

The groundwork for student success is set early in a child's life, which is why the stalled effort to increase opportunities for quality early childhood education means that Indiana's school progress could soon stall out, as well.

Karen Francisco, editorial page editor for The Journal Gazette, has been an Indiana journalist since 1981. She writes frequently about education for The Journal Gazette opinion pages and here, where she looks at the business, politics and science of learning as it relates to northeast Indiana, the state and the nation. She can be reached at 260-461-8206 or by e-mail at kfrancisco@jg.net.

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