The story was thoroughly positive: "Attendance and graduation rates in Kansas continued to inch upward last year ..." it began before laying out across-the-state statistics on these increases and on the decline in dropout rates. Bringing the stats closer to home, the reporter, Kate Beem, wrote, "Local districts generally mirrored the statewide results."
Yet the accompanying graph revealed that those results were not remotely "mirrored" in Wyandotte County, where 26 percent of Kansas' black population lives. There, three out of the five high schools experienced declines in graduation rates, and half had plummeting attendance figures.
And these schools suffered low numbers to begin with. Whereas nearly all schools in Johnson County could crow as their 80- and 90-percent grad rates increased by a point or two, those north of the county line saw their mid-40- to mid-50-percent grad rates fall 6, 7, even 15 percentage points, as was the case at J.C. Harmon High. (Bucking the trend was Wyandotte High School, which saw a small graduation-rate increase.)
And the full reports that accompanied the story online showed that only one high school in the whole county -- Sumner Academy, a college preparatory school with the fewest students -- met the state's standards of excellence in reading, writing and mathematics. That means almost 5,000 kids in the metro area's poorest community are being raised on a substandard education.
Media watchdogs say this kind of reporting is par for the course. "The Star dumps on Wyandotte County consistently, steadily and regularly," says David W. Carson, publisher of KCK's scrappy The New Observer. "This is a misstatement of the facts in favor of Wyandotte County, but if [The Star] misstates the facts and the facts need rectified, then that's dumping on us."
Beem was unavailable for comment. However, her boss pointed out that the story said area schools "generally mirror" statewide results. "I don't think the story singles out any school district as doing well or poorly," explains Jesse Barker, Johnson County city editor. "And the graphic shows the scores for anyone who's interested."