John Merrow reviews the miraculous but not true story of the high school in Washington, D.C., that increased its graduation rate from 57% to 100% in one year. And every one of these graduates were accepted into college! A touching story. But a false story. Made even worse by the fact that it was reported by NPR, which is a usually reliable and trustworthy source for news.

Merrow notes that in the original report, 26 of the graduating class of nearly 200 students had not yet earned enough credits to graduate. How, then, could the school have a graduation rate of 100% and a college acceptance rate of 100%?

A little digging, he said, would have revealed the fact that a local D.C. community college accepts all students who have a high school diploma, a GED, or the equivalent, so gaining college acceptance is not a high bar to cross.

He then recounts how NPR walked the story back and did some investigation, finding the original story to be wrong. There was no 100% graduation rate, and many students earned credits with “credit recovery,” sitting in front of a computer for a week to get a semester’s credits. How phony is that!

He writes:

Further evidence that the 100% college acceptance story is bogus comes from academic results. Only 9% of seniors were able to pass the city’s English test, and not a single student passed the math test. The average SAT score for Ballou test-takers was 782 out of a possible 1600. Moreover, teachers told NPR that some administrators actually filled out the college applications for those students who had no interest in attending college!

This disgraceful approach to schooling does widespread damage beyond what is obviously done to kids who receive phony diplomas but no real education. One teacher told NPR, “This is [the] biggest way to keep a community down. To graduate students who aren’t qualified, send them off to college unprepared, so they return to the community to continue the cycle.”

I am not writing this to criticize NPR for missing the story** the first time around. I did that myself more than once in my 41-year career, and I was late in recognizing the flaws in Michelle Rhee’s ‘test scores are everything’ approach in Washington. Her wrong-headed strategy is, arguably, responsible for the mind-set that exists at Ballou today.

Here’s what matters: the Ballou fiasco is the bitter fruit of the ‘School Reform’ movement that continues to dominate educational practice in most school districts today. These (faux) reformers continue to support policies and practices that basically reduce children to a single number, their scores on standardized, machine-scored tests. This approach has led to a diminished curriculum, drill-and-kill schooling, buckets of money leaving the schools and going instead to testing companies and outside consultants, the growth of charter schools (many run by profiteers), and a drumbeat of criticism from ideologues who seem determined to break apart and ruin public education, rather than attempt to reinvent it.

(This approach also once again proves the truth of Campbell’s Law, the more importance given to a single measure, the greater the probability that it will be corrupted. When test scores rule education, some people cheat. And when high school graduation rates rule, people also find ways to cheat.

In case you were not sure, Merrow makes clear that he was hoodwinked by Michelle Rhee, and he calls out the false premises and false promises of the “School Reform” movement, which has done so much to corrupt education by setting targets that can’t be reached without cheating.