Study offers solution to Oakland’s crime rate: graduation

Extrapolating from research on the effect of high school graduation on incarceration, researchers from the California Dropout Research Project present us with a bold guesstimate: If Oakland cut its dropout rate in half, the city would have 805 fewer homicides and aggravated assaults each year.

The report also projects that the drop in dropout rate would give the city an extra $144 million in “lifetime economic benefits.” You can find the one-page city profile here, and info for 16 other cities including Berkeley and San Francisco here.

Oakland’s dropout rate, according to the latest estimates by the California Department of Education, is about 36 percent. What would it take to cut that in half?

image from kimberlyfaye’s site on flickr.com/creativecommons

Katy Murphy

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

  • Catherine

    The solution seems uncomplicated:

    1. Have students at risk go to school a minimum of 46 weeks per year. A week off at Thanksgiving and Spring, two weeks off in the Winter and Summer.

    2. Pay teachers – the best, most innovative and yes, those with a track record of having their students provide EVIDENCE of their knowledge 35% more per school day than other teachers for teaching the students at risk.

    3. Feed the students breakfast and lunch. Feed every kid who attends an at risk school, free.

    4. Have kids in school for breakfast at 7:30 and keep them until 4:30 – every school day.

    5. Provide afterschool homework clubs for those who want to attend.

    6. Require that every parent meet with each of their children’s teachers once per month.

    7. Provide parent education classes on the weekend to teach vital parenting skills including talking to students at the dinner table, how to prepare low-cost, high quality meals for dinner and weekends.

    8. No homework in elementary school – have children read and keep a reading journal.

    9. Require children to attend two cultural events per year of their choice outside their culture – after school hours. For white kids it could be Juneteenth – for black kids it could be Persian New Year – for Hispanic kids it could be St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.

    10. Make parents sit in detention with their children for tardiness (more than 5 minutes late), misbehavior or not completing their reading or reading journals.

    11. Teach through science – a simple seed growing experiment could be used to demonstrate the solar system – the plants are divided into threes – the first set is in the window sill, the second is put in an oven (planets near the sun are hot) the third set in the refrigerator (planets away from the sun are cold. The whole science gig costs about $2.

    12. Pre and post test. That way you’ll know what they’re learning, but you’ll also know who needs to learn and what they need to learn.

    13. Ask students how they learn: by hearing the material, by watching a demonstration, by reading, by getting help from others, by talking about it, by actually doing a project themselves, by checking the information out on a computer or other ways.

    14. Ask the children their interests – then ask them how much time they spend on those interests. Something that is highly interesting to them, such as science, should have a lot of time devoted to the subject.

    15. Have children set up collections of things both in the classroom and home: leaves, rocks, bottlecaps, just about anything that can be classified, reasearched and discovered.

    16. Every teacher and principal should know the name of every student at the school. Greeting and saying goodbye should be a part of a daily routine.

  • Nextset

    Catherine: An interesting list.

    My ideas would be to keep it simple. And keep it cheap. I agree that keeping students in school and on track to graduation is the plan. I would set the graduation standards for public high school at well below college application requirements. Public High School diplomas only indicate the students has a grip of the basics required for entry level for military, vocational training or higher education at the Jr College or Trade School level – Nothing More. Having said that, some diplomas are more equal than others.

    I would make it clear that parental involvement is optional. It’s great if they even have parents at all much less have parents that can read and write or get away from prison/addiction/work/love affairs long enough to have any meaningful involvement in the child’s school career. Public Schooling does not require parental participation beyond the basics of providing food, clothing, shelter, and basic housebreaking and support of the school’s authority. We are running a public school not Anna Head.

    The students should be tested and sorted. If the stupid state or federal governments interfere with the IQ testing of the black students, we handle that by using black schools with permissive enrollment in mainstream schools if the kid first shows ability. Otherwise the students are to be placed in schools and campuses where they fit in with the population in terms of ability, deportment and wanting to be there. We will not force square pegs into round holes in the name of diversity or equality. People aren’t equal and diversity is not necesarily desirable unless it’s to throw a cat among the pigeons.

    Beyond that the students would be kept under pressure regardless of their assignments so that they don’t get lazy or complacent. Respect for authority would be demanded to the extent required to minimize stabbing each other with pencils – As in the military artificial tribes would be created and the students pitted against each other in competition for small matters and large. Spelling Bees to Football Teams to Debate contests to student council elections. By the end of their school careers the artificial tribes would be dissolved in favor of the school or district’s larger identity.

    I Don’t think I have to proscribe the reading assignments or the passing grades. The teachers would handle the bulk of that. The idea is to flog the maximum level of performance from each cohort and section – and that level could change up and down as things go on. The ambition of the teacher reasonably mated with a class without a lot of outliers should work.

    OUSD has the problems it does because of it’s refusal to test and sort students by ability, refusal to back teachers when they challenge or discipline the students, and handing teachers and principals a motley crew of students that are so disparate as to be ungovernable – some not even wanting to be there.

    A student should be in a class because they and their family want them there and the teacher/principal accepted them as qualifying for the class/school. This is not a new concept, it’s followed by the private schools. Those kids who can’t be placed due to behavior, excessive dullness or mental illness would be placed in a lowest denominator school where they would receive training not education. While the district would do what it could for them there would be no hand-wringing over their fate. If a program could be found that would work, great. If not, pallative care.

    As far as the cafeteria, etc.. The different schools would have different features. Some might feed, some would just tell them to buy bread and baloney and make their own sandwiches. Different strokes… Nobody gets to expect anything/everything their way. Same with the school hours. Some long days, some short days. The schools within the district would be different with different kids/families using them for different reasons.

    To that extent the schools within the district would be very diverse. What would probably become less diverse is the students within a school. If you were there it would be because you wanted to be and qualified for a given program. But all would be able to seek entry under relatively objective standards. It would be anticipated that some enrollment attempts would fail in schools and students would return or get flunked back to previous assignments and choices. But the doors would re-open from semester to semester or year to year.

    Such an urban district would have fewer drop outs and get more work done. The teachers would be able to focus on their classes with fewer disruptions and less turmoil. The students would all be happier, staying in a school where they fit in and would reasonably be expected to keep up. If the teachers turned up the treadmill speeds the students would remain together.

  • TheTruthHurts

    These two descriptions say more about the ultimate goal of education than they do about how to teach students.

    Frankly, I’d mix the two. Catherine is more my style, but doesn’t fully recognize the reality Oakland faces. Nextset, well, is Nextset. We do however need to ask more of parents while understanding that many are incapable and/or unwilling. I still think parents should be required to put in 5 hours a month to get a free education. Otherwise, garnish wages or otherwise create the incentive to participate. Even druggies understand money.

  • Nextset

    TruthHurts: We only have so much money and energy. You can’t fix stupid – I know, I’ve tried. We can either teach and train the kids or fight the families, not both. OUSD and the other urban schools cannot condition their operations on how good the parent is. And the school is not the monolithic state. Maybe we could fix everything if we called a Constitutional Convention and re-wrote it to exterminate the underclass. We are just talking what OUSD can do today.

    And Truth: Chasing Junkies around to make them do anything or pay for anything is a fantasy or a torture of Tantalus. The Junkie Union is a powerful Union. We can’t even stop an OctoMom, what makes you think you can control other such people? right now we aren’t even willing to control the Kids for several hours a day.

    I do agree with Catherine that many of the schools should run to 5pm if not 6pm and those schools should send the kids home with all the “homework” done. Some kids live in a “home” with no place to do school work, no clean surface to work on, no practical lighting to work by, and madness all around them (drug use, fighting, loudness, unrelated adults coming in and out, etc).

    As I said above, different schools for different kids with different needs. Maybe I’m just describing OUSD gone completely over to the various Charters. I believe OUSD can out-Charter the Charters and should get busy doing so.

    Raising the bar for a diploma using fantasy notions about higher math and reading levels is left wing nonsense. We should make the diploma reasonably reachable to the majority of our kids as long as that level isn’t lower than the minimum for McDonalds or the Military. And make no mistake, that level will eliminate a lot of the black kids in Oakland as presently brought up in OUSD.

    Even so I believe that we can get a good majority of OUSD kids by which I mean the gross number coming in at 1st grade, not the trickle that stay to the end of 12th grade – up to performance at a 7th or 8th grade national level. I know it’s ambitious but didn’t we do this in 1960?

  • Catherine


    We used to disagree about parental involvement – we are now on the same page. Most of the parents who have “at risk” kids are illiterate themselves. If you notice what I consider parenting classes it was to get nutritious food in the bodies of children – and to do it on a budget.

    The only other parental involvement would be keeping both the parent and the student in detention for infractions that are primarily the parents’ responsibility, such as getting their kids to school on time. Everyone needs to understand basic cause and effect and consequences for action.

    Pre and post testing would take care of the IQ issues – and schools selecting principals who understand fine sorting students could bypass the quagmire of the OUSD Board’s political correctness.

    And, while I could be wrong – I believe that GREAT, not good, not adequate, but GREAT teachers could keep kids learning, particularly at the elementary school level without the authority pounding that you are requiring.

    I, too, believe OUSD has problems because they are hung up on not testing and sorting. By pretesting, you are understanding students, weeding out discipline problems from kids who already know the material, but are being “taught” anyway because all students must be on page 34 on the same day.

    The cafeteria, food, nutrition issue is simply a matter of fact. Kids who do not have the right combinations of protein and carbohydrates do not have the brain functioning power to last through three hours of mental work. Without the fuel, kids can’t learn and I don’t trust the parents of at risk kids to know how to feed them, much less choose nutritious food over high priced sneakers, a bottle of alcohol or money for the latest man in their lives.

    I have studied the evidence from Stanford, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, University of Connecticut and Yale. My simple step plan will work – I am sure of it.

  • http://www.studentmotivation.org/CesarChavezAve Bill Betzen

    This research is on target. It agrees with all other related research. Here in Dallas we started to focus our middle school students onto their own story and their own future in a 10-year time-capsule project focusing toward a 10-year 8th grade class reunion. This simple project appears to have lowered our dropout rate by 26% in the 9th to 10th grade passage where we historically have lost most of our students. It is a very popular project costing less than $2 per student as it fits within the normal language arts curriculum at this time. See details at http://www.studentmotivation.org If Oakland 8th graders could all write letters to themselves this year for time-capsules in their own schools it could create an enrollment bubble working it’s way toward the class of 2013 which would be the largest graduation class in Oakland history!

  • Nancy

    TO Catherine, Nextset, & The Truth Hurts:


    Motivational strategies at http://www.studentmotivation.org, well that speaks for itself…

  • Nancy
  • Catherine


    Your sales pitch is nothing but a well – sales pitch – no documentation, no research, nothing except something to sell – and I’m not buying.

  • Nextset

    Catherine: I agree that at select schools it may be essential to provide feeding. I have known adults who were raised by an alcoholic/bi-polar parent who were starved as children. They have clear unambiguous physical damage from it (think Biafra Baby). Even as middle aged adults they hide this – let’s just say they don’t do locker rooms very well. You wonder how that fits in with the 6 figure income… well, different things make different people competitive.

    And it’s not just one person and one family.. either.

    I really do agree that the schools must feed students at some schools, but not all. Like I said before, different strokes for different folks.

    I also wish the schools were more militant about calling the police when children show neglect or dissapear under suspicious circumstances. And I also believe in some schools the teachers need to be clear authority figures over the Parent – as in the teacher will call in the Parole Officer to sit in a parent conference (Or the Probation Officer, the Mental Health Case worker, CPS, etc) and will otherwise tell Mommy that either certain things are done with the kids or steps will be taken.

    If you are working with at-risk families (as in at risk for drug OD, sexual assault, or neglecting the kid to death, etc) the Teacher is an authority figure over the parent and will have to rise to that occasion. Hope teacher isn’t 23.

    There are many reasons why OUSD’s grad rate is where it is. Urban Schools come with special needs families and they need to be in special schools that are up to the challenge.

  • http://www.studentmotivation.org Bill Betzen

    The school the School Archive Project is located in Dallas is a normal innercity middle school. I have been a teacher here for 9 years and these kids are as capable as any. They only need the same attention and goals as any suburban kid. They are normal with very few exceptions. Poverty is the only common affliction with all that is associated with that. The Archive Project just helps them connect with their own plans and history. Once they begin to put it together they see the reason for work in a classroom. Any caring teacher can do it with a vault in the school lobby. I am selling nothing. The http://www.studentmotivation.org web site is free and all that is needed to run the project can be downloaded.