New dropout rates are more accurate, but not pretty

You’ve heard me gripe about all of the dropout rate calculations and projections for Oakland’s public schools. Well, the state department of education has finally broken out its newfangled student tracking system and released some (supposedly) accurate, estimate-free dropout data for the 2006-07 school year!

Two years ago, California assigned every public school student a unique state ID number in order to track their progress, regardless of where in the state they moved. If a student vanishes from Oakland High School, for example, and turns up in Los Angeles Unified a month later, that student will no longer be counted as a dropout.

While admittedly exciting on a wonky, statistical level — oh, the information! — the state’s preliminary data present a very sobering picture. If it’s as accurate as they say, it means that nearly 11 percent of Oakland’s high school kids quit school during the 2006-07 year alone.

Researchers say that would make for a 35.9 percent dropout rate in Oakland over four years. And, unlike other researchers’ estimates, that doesn’t even count students who are enrolled in adult schools or earning their GEDs. (There is only one year’s worth of detailed student data so far, so the 35.9 percent four-year rate is, alas, another estimate.)

What also caught my attention was the huge difference in rates reported in the old (and erratic) dropout reporting system in 2005-06, and the new system. You can see for yourself on my little spreadsheet here. I highlighted some of the schools with the largest swings from 2005-06 to 2006-07.

(Note: Obviously, the spreadsheet doesn’t compare apples to apples. I seriously doubt the dropout problem changed that dramatically from year to year. I’m only noting the sharp percentage point differences that went along with the more accurate data.)

Oh, and here is an interesting table that shows some 20 reasons that students left a particular school, from going private to failing the high school exit exam.

image from mario zucca illustration’s site at flickr.com/creativecommons

Katy Murphy

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

  • Catherine

    In some cases the figures were horrid. However, some schools did better than I thought when compared to parent education levels, poverty levels, and overall API of the schools.

  • Nextset

    Playing devil’s advocate again, I’d suggest that those who left school had what to them seemed to be perfectly good reasons for doing so – that the school didn’t meet their needs.

    And that decision – to walk out of high school – has been made over and over for well over 100 years by America’s teens. They usually leave because they were flunking out of that school’s proferred program anyway. It is not an irrational decision for them to make and humans can usually be trusted to select their own pleasures.

    The public schools would do better by giving students more choice on educational programming rather than taking the one-size-fits-all – including the exit exam. One exit exam shouldn’t fit all either.

    US schools should start looking at the model used by other industrialized societies where students are sorted usually by puberty and thereafter, nationally, and offered various certifications and options based on performance and/or prerequisites. Students with no aptitude for Algebra or lab sciences shouldn’t be forced into them. People who say they want to be physicians should have various “put up or shut up points” to qualify to remain in that track.

    And with the stream of wanna-bes for expensive training thus focused and narrowed we should not have to charge $30k a year for university training.

    I have experiences with plenty of people who were high school or earlier dropouts. The vast majority of them couldn’t have done much else. Many have ended up well enough. They found other educational and training programs that gave them what their public schools could not. – They got jobs, learned on the jobs, and went back to specialized classroom training later in life – often through work, the union, etc.

  • Jim Farwell

    What really concerns me is what the drop out rate says about how well our adult community will be prepared to participate in our democratic way of life. If people cannot read or understand verbally presented discourse on issues, how informed will their participation be as voters? Ignorance clears the way for Karl Rovian type deceptions. It takes an educated citizenry to read between the lines and to protect our sacred practice of exercising informed consent.

    In my work with high school students, there are significant and understandable reasons for not attending classes or for dropping out of school. Many students do not understand classroom English. As a consequence, when somethning is presented, the student in unable to understand what is being discussed. They cannot retain what has been said. This promotes a sense of “being stupid and a desire to pull away from any embarrassment that would arise within the classroom.

    Secondly, many of our children cannot read well. If they cannot read, they cannot understand what the asssignments have required that they learn. No one can write any better than they can read and so if reading is limited, so is a student’s ability to write.

    So, what does a student have to look forward to in attending class? They cannot understand the language of the classroom, they cannot read well or comprehend what they have read, they cannot write and they do not want to feel stupid. It only makes sense that someone in that state of affairs would not attend class, do their work, turn in assignments or stay long enough to graduate.

    Mary Pippitt’s Reading First program for K-5th grade recently won a national award for most reading improvement in the primary grades in the state of California. The kids coming through Oakland’s primary grades are now learning to read and write and develop facility with classroom English. Hopefully the consequence of this program will prepare students, by the time they have entered high school, to be prepared for what is being asked of them. The only fly in the ointment is that Pippitt’s program is not going to continue to be funded by the district. In the absence of her program or programs like her’s what will happen to our children? In light of what Pippitt’s program is doing for our children, shouldn’t the district provide basic funding for the program to continue?

  • Katy Murphy

    The state just released corrected dropout figures, which lowers the California dropout rate to 21.5 percent, from 24.2 percent.

    You can check out the new data at the below link. (Be sure to look at the adjusted rates on the right side of the sheet.)

    Oakland’s four-year dropout rate is now estimated at 36 percent (down from 37.4 percent), and the state says that 10.5 percent of Oakland high school students dropped out in 2006-07, not 11 percent.

    Hardly major swings, but I thought I’d keep you all up to date.

  • Jenny Anderson

    I’m a 19 years old single mother. Living with two little sister and a mother who is in a wheel chair cause in a car accident .I dropped out of school a year ago, a couple months before my graduation, and got on a full time job so I can pay for my mom’s medical bill, and work in her place. I am mad that I didn’t get to finish school, but staying in school is not an option for me. I’m also dealing with big financial problem right now. Wish i did get to finish school though, i want to be a nurse