Wolf Point: A Poor Defense of Their Graduation Rate

Along with their editorial about dropout rates today, the Gazette printed a defense of the Wolf Point Schools, written by Superintendent Tim Cody. Wolf Point was identified by a Johns Hopkins University study as a “dropout factory,” a school where no more than 60 percent of entering freshmen make it to their senior year. Cody’s defense of his school system is troubling on a number of levels, a poorly written and argued defense that demonstrates what some of the problems of the Wolf Point Schools might be.

Let me first say that I understand that Wolf Point and the other schools listed as “Dropout Factories” on the list face unique challenges in terms of demographics and poverty. As a state and as a nation, we have done too little to help students who struggle with poverty and the legacy of racism, and need to do much more. That said, however, Superintendent Cody fails to make a case for his school, and needs to be challenged to do more.

He writes:

How easy is it for those of us that give of our entire inner being to a profession we have chosen and dedicated our lives to, when we constantly must battle statistics and data that do not truly measure the actual reality of our situation that we face daily.

I have no idea what this means, but I have chosen it as one sample of the writing style that pervades the piece. I won’t pick on any others in the piece, which, to be frank, is atrociously written and poorly edited. This may sound pedantic, but if I were going to the public arena to defend my school district, I’d probably edit my writing for clarity and usage. This isn’t some blog post; it’s a statement, in the state’s largest paper, about the quality of Wolf Point High School, and it’s hardly reassuring that the head of the school spent so little time on his work. (English teacher rant off)

Cody continues:

First of all, the 60 percent quoted is not a statistic of actual dropout percentages of our school as an average of the past three years, but rather something the author calls a school’s “promoting power,” which measures simply enrollments of a senior class and compares that to the enrollment of the freshman class four years previous. . .

Yet, this measure is a constant, for all schools in the study. Flawed though it may be, it doesn’t measure Wolf Point any differently than any other Montana school.

He writes:

It does not measure the fact that we may report our data correctly and honestly. It does not look at each of our students individually and analyze the story and history of that child. . .It does not measure the fact that academic expectations at our school perhaps might be higher than others in a similar economic and poverty-filled system. . .

Now, this is interesting. It suggests that other schools in Montana are not reporting their data correctly or lack rigor in their studies. This is a pretty irresponsible claim, unless Mr. Cody knows it to be true. It’s a convenient out, but absent proof, is nothing more than a politician’s response. I’m no rhetorician, but the use of “we may report” is suggestive of the weakness of this claim.

He continues:

It does not measure the fact that according to the list of top 10 effective strategies as identified by the National Dropout Prevention Center/Network, at, our school system is employing in some form or another nine out of 10 and that the current administration is exploring avenues to address the lone one not employed and looking at ways to improve upon those currently in use. . .

What does this mean? It means that Wolf Point, like so many schools, has adopted some programs to say that they are trying to reform. Is there any measurement of their success? Any outside evaluation? The article does not say, but I am willing to hazard a guess.

Finally, Mr. Cody notes:

This would be what one would call “thinking out of the box” as far as academics go, because it would require unconventional methods of educating students, and resistance from the “old school” and unions is not so easily overcome.

I’m also not a manager, but I suspect that attacking your teachers might not be the most effective way to build morale and improve your schools. Instead of recycled talking points about union obstacles, Mr. Cody might find a lot more success engaging them in the process of school improvement. Heck, one of his English teachers might even review his next editorial comment.

Did I write all of this to pick on Mr. Cody and the Wolf Point Schools? Absolutely not. His response, however, to an objectively measured shortcoming of his school is a real disappointment, one repeated all over the nation. It’s not that we are failing to teach our children reading, it is that No Child Behind makes us test too much. It’s not that our content is often outdated and irrelevant, it’s that parents don’t care and children watch too much television. It’s not that we demand too little and then suddenly expect too much, it’s that our high schools are too big. It’s always something beyond our control.

For once, I’d like to see the people who run the schools spend less time looking for excuses and more time looking for answers. If teachers won’t accept “the dog ate my homework,” why should community members continue to accept even lamer excuses from the people who run their schools?

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.


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  • I am so glad you make my point, as once again criticism is the order of the day. Without any positive feedback or suggestions of ways to find a cure to the problems schools will continue to struggle with limited support from society. Please keep in mind the original purpose of education is not currently what we are being asked to do. I am not hard to contact should you have some insight to a successful end to this problem. Unlike you, I enter into any discussion with an open mind and a willingness to listen. Understand too that now the federal government asks us to implement programs that are research-based. Show me your research and I will be glad to begin the process of implementing it into our school setting.

  • There are some really interesting research based programs out there. One common thread seems to be increasing expectations of our students, giving them the tools and the confidence to achieve academic success. I’d be happy to share what I’ve come across.

    I appreciate your response, but I’m unconvinced that being a skeptic makes me a part of the problem. One of the real problems in the education world is the idea that critical examination of policies and programs is nothing more than pessimism. I would argue that taking a critical look at what we do is essential for actual improvement, as opposed to the appearance of it.

    I also appreciate your concern for your students, and your work in a school that has some real difficulties. I’d just like to see that struggling schools do more than checklists of reform, and implement systematic change.

    In all sincerity, best of luck.

  • I can speak from experience when I say: Pogie is NOT part of the problem. What is the problem is administrators and higher-ups who prefer business as usual to taking risks on something that might change the system. I wouldn’t judge another schools administration until I’d had first hand experience with it.

    I don’t know what you view to be the original purpose of education, but I know that many administrators seem think their job is to enforce conformity so that their students can be productive cogs in society. Newsflash: the Chinese beat us at that game years ago. Simply maintaining an ‘orderly’ school will produce orderly students, but not smart ones.

    Teachers are the people on the ground, administrators whould do what a good manager does, which is let the professionals do what they are trained to do and have experience with. Even the best administrator will never know a class as well as a teacher who is with them every day. Yes, standards are needed, and management is needed. But I think that generally teachers know what to do to keep their students in school; they just need the freedom to do it.

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Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is an eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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