# Report: Half of Oakland students graduate on time

The graduation estimate by Education Week’s research center for Oakland Unified’s Class of 2005 — 50.5 percent — is actually slightly better than one that came out about three years ago, which used the same formula. (Remember the one by the Civil Rights Project at Harvard that labeled Oakland and Los Angeles “dropout factories?” That one. It put the rate at 48 percent.)

Who knows? Maybe in another three years, when the data for this year’s graduating class comes out, it will show that Oakland is above the state average (70 percent in 2005).

Now for my perennial disclaimer: No one knows exactly how many kids graduate high school on time — or ever — and how many drop out and never return to school. This is just a researcher’s best guess for the percentage who graduate in four years with a regular diploma.

Check out the Diplomas Count report and an interactive, color-coded map showing estimates for every school district in the country.

Do you think this method — which only estimates how many students graduated high school in four years with a regular diploma — simply inflates the drop-out figure, or do you think the “on-time” rate is important to measure?

image from m_kane10’s site at flickr.com/creativecommons

### Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

• Sue

I don’t know. 50.5% isn’t much of an improvement over 48%.

And I don’t think estimates are of much use. Hard numbers would be better.

And even better would be extensive interviews with as many non-graduates as possible to find out *why* they didn’t graduate, and figure out how to fix the problems they identified.

• Nextset

Sue: I don’t trust that number. The schools have incentivies to lie. I’d like to see a random sampling of OUSD 1st graders 12 years ago and find out how many are dead, missing, located graduated, located failed. And even then, how do you count those who moved to other school districts to get into better schools? Would a fair method be to only count those who remained in OUSD schools or failed to enroll elsewhere – and omit the dead and missing? Probably so.

We really don’t need to interview many of the resident non-graduates, and maybe we don’t need to fix them at all. The high school graduations requirements have been (legislatively) set to eliminate people with cognitive or behavioral defects at a certain level. They can’t graduate – they can’t even read and write.

OUSD and people generally need to accept the fact that everybody isn’t equal and not everybody is physically/mentally able to manage the new performance levels to graduate and stop worrying about it. We need to indentify these kids as early as possible and do what’s reasonable to make them self sufficient. We also must admit that in this Brave New World the kids have a right to refuse to co-operate and “not graduate”. When they make themselves and their decision known by acting out and refusing to program we must get them out of the normal schools and into special ed programs for them – stop bothering them with academic subjects and let them fingerpaint, play music, skateboard or whatever else can be arranged. Maybe they are too “theatrical” for standard education (ie: Cyndi Lauper). They can still have a great life using an unconventional route. Give them that route, support them as reasonably as we can, and wish them well.

The standard schools should be for the kids who can benefit from them and not be allowed to be destroyed by those who aren’t able to function there. It should be made clear that graduation is not required and is only for those who earned it.

• Caroline

I have to add another disclaimer.

Public-school bashers constantly try to imply that the dropout rate has risen in recent years. That’s wildly untrue — totally bogus.

Even when I graduated from HS — 1971 — it was still completely common for working-class and poor kids to drop out to go to work without a second thought. (And this was in Mill Valley, too, which was not then completely the precious province of the wealthy and hip.)

Nobody gave a crap, and there wasn’t a big privatization movement coming from the right attempting to eliminate public education at the time, so it wasn’t an issue.

Further back, it used to be THE NORM for MOST kids to drop out of school to work. My own grandmother, born in 1899 and raised in an Irish-American family in the Appalachians, dropped out after 8th grade to go to work in a glove factory. This was the expectation in her family, and it would have been an act of defiance and disloyalty for her to try to continue school. That is still the expectation in some families and some cultures.

When schools send the message “stay in school and graduate,” they are often in conflict with the family’s expectation. So how do we reconcile that? Do we blame the schools for it?

My 8th-grader has her “Promotion” ceremony next week from SFUSD’s diverse Aptos Middle School — what is of course universally known as graduation. The schools offically call it Promotion because they are trying to convey the message: “This is NOT your graduation — that will come when you finish high school.”

Lots of education reporters are clueless about this whole historical/cultural issue. Katy, I already know that you’re not, but just reinforcing this point.

• Sharon

“The Way We Were?” is a 1998 Century Foundation Report that looks at the myths and realities of America’s student achievement over the past century or so. It concludes that while some areas need improvement, American schools are NOT doing worse than before and in many ways have been making good progress with supplying the country with enough skilled workers. The problem in our cities is that there is an extreme lack of jobs.

According to the book, businessmen and policymakers have been charging, on a regular basis, that the public schools are not sufficiently preparing graduates since the 1900’s. The types of things Bill Gates is saying now are not at all new. These people ought to shift their concerns and deal with the other problems still being ignored.

According to a 2006 New York Times article, the share [of black male high school dropouts in their 20’s who were jobless — that is, unable to find work, not seeking it or incarcerated] had grown to 72 percent in 2004, compared with 34 percent of white and 19 percent of Hispanic dropouts. Even when high school graduates were included, half of black men in their 20’s were jobless in 2004, up from 46 percent in 2000. That’s a whole lot of free time. Drugs, gambling, low self esteem, and trouble anyone?

To make a comparison, unemployment was 3.2 percent at the beginning the Great Depression. At it’s height it reached 24.9 percent four years later. This was enough to bring on a massive Federal intervention. On the other hand, high unemployment in the black urban community has been permitted to be sustained at horrific levels for almost fifty years. The schools did not make it happen and will not single-handedly be able to cure it. More decent jobs need to be created for Oakland residents.

By the way, it was interesting to learn that, “In 1950, fewer than 13 percent of black males over the age of twenty-five had completed high school; only 25 percent had even completed the eighth grade.”

• Nextset

High School graduation is not expected of IQs of 85 unless the requirements have been dumbed down. So unless you give the diplomas away, you have to expect a lot of drop outs. Since intelligence distribution is different by ethnicity, these results surprise only the clueless.

NCLB cannot change the “Gap”. You can reduce it somewhat by getting the best performance out of the borderline students – ie better discipline.

• John

Although I agree with you Nextset that students who act out and refuse to program should be taken out of the normal schools (or classrooms), it is not accurate or appropriate to identify special education as a non-academic receptacle for students to “finger paint, play music, skateboard or do whatever else can be arranged.” Special education is not a play time holding cell for unmotivated and/or recalcitrant students.

Mandated testing and performance criteria must be met to qualify a student for special education services. The purpose of Special Education and the Individual Education Plan (IEP) is to provide individualized instruction that matches a student’s academic ability and factors in assessment and specialist identified issues that impede his/her ability to learn.

Given your professional background, contacts, and resources perhaps you might start out by taking an informative look at due process and student/parent rights under state and federal special education statutes. Issues of student behavior and/or attitude (“refusing to program”) alone cannot qualify a student for special education services.

Public misunderstanding regarding the purpose and application of special education services can have unfortunate consequences, especially when it gets intertwined with racial politics. I remember once upon a time allegations “from the community” that African Americans were over represented in OUSD special education programs as a consequence of racism. The apologists fell all over themselves trying to appease and make things “right,” including the special education department director who had reportedly learned from a previous unwarranted demotion the political imperative of responding proactively to allegations of racism (true or false) involving Afro Americans.

At the time a speech therapist friend observed with a smile that “not just anyone can qualify for special education services and “racial politics should not disqualify a student for the kind of special education services he/she is ASSESSMENT QUALIFIED to receive.” Amen.

• Nextset

Sorry John, I confused Special Ed with Continuation School.