Robert Kimball was the assistant principal at Sharpstown Senior High School in Houston, Texas, when Houston's schools were being lauded nationally as the forefront of education reform under then-Superintendent Rod Paige. In the 2001-02 school year, Houston schools were reporting dramatically reduced dropout rates. Overall, the district claimed a 1.5 percent rate; Sharpstown, which served many low-income students of color, reported a dropout rate of zero percent.
Kimball knew something was amiss and wrote to his principal in November 2002, "We go from 1,000 freshmen to 300 seniors with no dropouts. Amazing!"
When nothing happened, Kimball contacted a local television station. Because of Paige's prominence, the national media picked up on the story, and Kimball appeared on "60 Minutes II." As a result of the media scrutiny, the district investigated and confirmed that the miraculous dropout rates were faked. A state investigation showed that the district under-reported dropouts by 2,999 students. Kimball, a high-school dropout himself, recently spoke to Rethinking Schools' managing editor Catherine Capellaro.
Rethinking Schools: In the past year, the media picked up on the story that you helped break, the story of how Sharpstown High School was "cooking the books" to hide an official dropout rate that was much higher. What made you risk your career to blow the whistle on the "Texas Miracle"?
Kimball: I did it for the students. The District had canceled all of its GED programs because they felt that dropouts were not an issue since the dropout rate in Houston was only 1.5 percent. On almost a daily basis I observed school administrators telling students to withdraw because of their attendance or behavior problems. Almost all of the students that were being pushed out were at-risk students and minorities. I decided to go public when community activists told me that they had been trying unsuccessfully for 15 years to convince the district that it was in denial on the dropout problem.