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Ex-Houston Principal Punished Over Data

August 30, 2003

HOUSTON (AP) _ Under fire for underreporting student dropout rates, the Houston school district announced it is docking the pay of a former principal and a computer technician at one high school found to be among the worst offenders.

Sharpstown High School had been among a handful of schools claiming they had no dropouts, claims that were questioned in a complaint filed with the Texas Education Agency by a state legislator from Houston.

A series of internal audits and external investigations that followed found that nearly all the schools examined in Houston, the nation’s seventh largest school district and the district where U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige had been superintendent, were vastly underreporting dropouts.

``The Sharpstown investigation found that while no specific directive contributed to reporting of low dropouts, a climate existed at the school that tolerated the reporting of unrealistic dropout rates,″ Houston Independent School District Superintendent Kaye Stripling said in a statement disclosing findings of an investigation by a Houston law firm.

``HISD and the public will not tolerate the reporting of inaccurate data _ these actions make that clear,″ Stripling said.

Former Sharpstown High School Principal Carol Wichmann, who retired in August, will have the amount she would have received from the district upon retirement lowered by two weeks, and the school’s technician, Kenneth Cuadra, will be put on unpaid leave for two weeks and reassigned to another school, the district said in a statement.

Besides Wichmann and Cuadra, the district said it would place letters of reprimand in the files of three assistant principals and West District Superintendent Anne Patterson.

Sharpstown is the only school where officials have said dropout figures were intentionally falsified.

Wichmann, reached Saturday, declined to comment about the investigation and referred questions to the district.

Neither Patterson nor Cuadra could be reached for comment Saturday by The Associated Press. Cuadra has denied wrongdoing and plans to appeal the decision. ``This is a devastating blow to my finances,″ he told the Houston Chronicle.

The Texas Education Agency, which oversees Texas’ public schools, found nearly 3,000 uncounted dropouts in Houston schools during the 2000-2001 school year, the only year the investigation had looked into.

Underreporting of dropout figures is a nationwide issue and isn’t just limited to Houston, according to Jay Greene, a senior fellow with The Manhattan Institute, an independent public policy organization in New York.

The Houston district has promised to keep more accurate student records and was placed on probation for a six-month period in which the district has been ordered to clean up its record keeping. Once a special accreditation investigation is complete, the state agency will determine whether to lower the district’s rating from academically acceptable.

Houston’s sharply lower dropout rates had contributed to the city’s reputation as a showcase for the ``Texas miracle″ in education in the late 1990s, which then-Gov. George Bush cited in his presidential campaign.

Paige, appointed to the national education post by Bush, has since acknowledged ``there probably was″ a dropout problem in Houston while he was there.

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