Good news about Oakland’s graduation rate?

Well, sort of. Remember the researchers who came out with that report four years ago calling Oakland and Los Angeles “dropout factories” because they graduated fewer than half of their students? That report basically said that California was masking its terrible dropout problem with lousy math, and suggested a new formula to calculate how many students made it from ninth grade to graduation in four years.

By this same formula, Oakland’s four-year graduation rate for the Class of 2005 was about 50.5 percent, about nine percentage points higher than it was for the Class of 1995 (and about three points higher than the estimate cited in the “dropout factory” report), according to the new study, prepared by Editorial Projects in Education Research Center.

The America’s Promise report, which looked at the 50 largest cities in the United States, ranked Oakland 34th. It also found that most of Oakland’s dropouts quit in the tenth grade, something that I hadn’t realized. You can find the study here.

I should note that the last group studied was the Class of 2005, the year before California’s high school exit exam requirement took effect (see this morning’s post). Improvement’s a good thing, but half is still half.

Katy Murphy

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

  • Nextset

    10th grade when most of the OUSD dropouts leave, would be age 16. I think it’s likely that the act of dropping out follows in excess of a year floundering in OUSD’s school programming. These kids were in real trouble at age 14.

    Puberty is when the differences between the cognitively bright and dull becomes manifest, and that’s when the two need to go their separate ways.

    As far as the dropout rate, I’d argue it’s not high enough. Enough of the missmatched students hang around long enough to hobble OUSD’s academic schools.

    Rather than having this dropout syndrome we should be peeling off these non-academic kids into programs suited to them and their skills and ambitions. They do have them. And yes, all of them that we can keep in a school program should be programmed for entry level jobs other than human signs – from hotel maid and parking attendants to drivers, roadies and every other honest occupation OUSD can find for them to start in.

    Even if some of them are criminals they need a day job.

    That’s a joke, sort of… It should be the mission of OUSD to find a decent and legal start in life for all of the students coming in at 9th grade. A better future is out there for people dull or not. It requires some work to get it, and not Algebra 2.

    Most kids will not go to college, they can go to work if we get them ready.

  • harlemmoon

    What about setting the bar higher for those you call the “dulls” ? Do we just give up because it takes a little more effort, a bit more work to get even one of these kids to achieve at a high level?

  • Steve

    Yeah, I dunno Nextset. I can appreciate how you identify that by the time kids reach puberty there are some real differences in their abilities that emerge, but I’m not sure that’s where we should be focusing. Some say these differences can be traced back to the moment the child pops out of the womb (or before!), based on the collection of opportunities which the kid’s afforded over his/her lifetime. I think maybe your idea might have some value in the short term, but in the long term we need to make sure we’re looking more at those divergences that occur earlier on in life.

  • Nextset

    The difference in the Teen’s behaviors may have been predetermined by genetics, family line, or the whether the Moon was in the 7th house when they were born – it doesn’t really matter.

    The schools have to manage the kids and get the best for them they resonable can with the school budget and resources. Keeping everyone together doesn’t pay for post pubescents. They (brights & dulls) clearly move in different directions and the schools have to accomodate that with an academic program for those who want it/can do it, and a non-academic (minimal academic/maximum vocational and life skills) program for those that don’t. The Non Academics have been cheated for generations at OUSD now – they are just run out of the place (as shown by the drop rate) and essentially dumped into the streets like unwanted Cats.

    The alternative is to create a strong non-academic program that ofers some kind of a decent start in life for kids who have no aptitude for Academics (ie read at 5th grade level at 10th grade).

  • Nextset

    Harlemmoon: It is setting the bar higher for the Dulls to get them trained to start entry level work by/before age 18. Europe has been doing this for centuries. It’s not Algebra 2 but it is hard work to get people into the building trades, auto mechanics, any of the skilled trades (and I mean entry level). Have you ever watched Heald Business College classes? The kids there have to learn and practice workplace dress, grammar & speech, as well as everything that in their coursebooks. All the Voc Ed classes you see and hear of fully engage the students in ways you don’t see in a typical OUSD class. (I have a friend who taught Auto Mechanics – he had to keep them from firing up the Arc Welder while standing in a gas puddle.) You can create programs that challenge the students and require them to work at their capacity – as well as keep their interest. But you are not running UC Berkeley entrance requirements.

    When you are going to make your living with your hands and your back you need to start early. We need to better help those kids who will be making that living. The schools need to place the bottom half – who aren’t going to college – on the ladder by age 18. And that includes our drop outs, even if we have to start by teaching them how to work as human signs and motel maids – so they can always get one of those jobs at the least. Hopefully they’ll train for something better.

    I think OUSD can aptitude test the students by 10th grade (if not every year of High School) and offer switch students off the Academic Track who don’t want it.

  • Pepe

    Nextset (and others), there will be a special on KQED titled “New Science of Learning: Brain Fitness for Kids” that might be provide some enlightenment for us on your labeling of “dulls” and “brights.” It seems to focus on the work of neuroscientists who are researching how teaching affects the elasticity of the brain/ability to learn. I’m interested to find out if your viewpoint has any backing by the scientific community. I would trust the results of a neuroscientist much more than those of a sociologist.

  • Kareem Weaver

    A graduation rate of 50% is 9% better than it was ten years ago… I am blown away by this. This must change. We simply have to do better.

    Nextell, I disagree with your premise. Saying puberty is when cognitive differences manifest, implies that those differences are inherent. According to this report, Oakland has a 50% dropout rate that is actually an improvement from the past. I do not believe, that 50% of the students in Oakland are unable to be educated (cognitively dull). To imply that half the kids in Oakland aren’t college material, and therefore should be steered towards decent, manual labor reveals a true lack of faith in the intelligence of one’s fellow man.

    I do not blame you for interpreting the numbers how you have, nor do I blame you for an apparent frustration at the waste and misallocation of resources your viewpoint seems to loathe. What I will say is this – we can agree that something needs to be changed and restructured to produce better results.

    Your idea to have trade skills reintroduced to the school system is not a bad idea. Many older residents recall a time when Woodshop, Home Econ, and Autoshop were favorite classes. Some students may have very well used those classes as a springboard into a career. I agree; it is crusial that we diversify our portfolio of offerings to meet all student needs. However, I think it’s unwise to separate students from access to the college-prep courses.

    1. The separation would need to be guided by human hands. Teachers, administrators, testing and such. There are too many variables to know for sure ifa kid is doing poorly because of their lack of intelligence (I shiver just writing that. I truly believe all kids can learn. But I’m following your rationale…). With human variables comes problems. You run too great of risk of mislabeling students and, thereby, allowing all manner of vice and human deference to impact on a kid’s life path. That’s too much power in human hands.

    2. Kids change their minds. Kids grow. Kids who’ve drawn the short straw and had bad classroom experiences may simply need a different environment to thrive. As a teacher, I’ve seen it time and again.

    There are programs like Job Corps at Treasure Island who do as you suggest. But even they have a classroom component to earn a diploma.

    Half the kids in Oakland aren’t academically dumb. Unskilled, definitely. Underperforming, without a doubt. Uneducable… hell, no.

    I understand your frustration. While I disagree with your premise, I think we can agree that changes to the system should address student needs. Agreed.

    My first year teaching I was next door to an old-vet. While most of the school was in chaos, her room was an oasis of peace and achievement. The students were focused and learning. I asked her what was her teaching philosophy and she quickly said, “I blieve I can teach any child, any-time, any-where.” That was her philosophy and I cling to that as a way to read this current mess. We have to believe that every child can learn, regardless of their situation. I know you’re frustrated – but don’t let it erode your opinion of your fellow man’s potential.

    Feel free to continue this conversation off-board.

  • Nextset

    Kareem: You betcha half of the (possible) high school students aren’t college material. Not unless the “college” is dumbed down to unrecognizable levels.

    And IQ is largely inherent. You don’t grow it with better food.

    As far as using the left side of the Bell Curve for manual labor – well, they get used for whatever they are suitable for. Maybe NFL, Maybe Acting, Maybe rapping, maybe politics, maybe bus driving. Just because you can’t survive a calculus class there is no reason to think a person can’t make a real good living at something. The trick is finding that something in the relatively short time you have to get on the ladder of success. Some of our drop outs discover prostitution and drug dealing. But even that takes some smarts. Was Sally Stanford a genius? Maybe not, but she had a great time and lived well into old age.

    Right now the left side of the Bell Curve leave OUSD and end up as human signs, they can’t even get a McDonalds job – immigration, created at full force by Congress – has helped render our dull people utterly unemployable absent real strong training programs OUSD and the other urban schools don’t have.

    I’m not saying our dulls have to be hotel maids – but they should have the option. With immigration (legal and illegal) they don’t.

    And as far as the intelligence of fellow man – spare me. IQ is measured. We know the IQ of anyone we need to measure – many many tests are IQ test proxies including the SAT, military entrance tests, state professional licensing exams, etc. We know the IQs of the dropouts – as a group. If we need to know them individually we look at their last test scores on various exams and get an approximation. Simply put, profiling works when you are dealing with groups of people and not individuals. And that is what policy is about – people in large numbers.

    And on the subject of IQ. The goofy Supreme Court banned IQ tests in employment (other than Military and NFL which use it incessantly). All Corporate America had to do is require pedigrees – diplomas from certain schools – which are IQ proxies. And things are back to normal except it’s now much harder to get smart minorities than when you could just test for them (regardless of what college they went to).

    And staffing a college prep program with dull students damages all the students and wrecks the program. Allowing for individuals to challenge the assigned seating is one thing. Mixing students across the board gives you – OUSD. A mess where learning ceases and performance crashes.

  • Kareem Weaver

    Your argument would be reasonable if you did not mix the intent and capability of a standardized school test with that of an IQ test. It is not a proxy. The standardized tests measure academic skill, not intelligence. Many highly intelligent students struggle academically. There is a middle group that tends to thrive and figure out how to negotiate things; they’re able to take orders and comply in a non-threatening way with both their peers and the teachers. This is the largest group – the middle. Your students who have not developed their sense of compromise or who respond “in kind” have a terrible time.

    There is a measure of intelligence involved in standardized tests; many students learn test taking skills which allow them to deduce, reason, rationalize, and think about what they are being asked – this is the camp who believe such tests are more like puzzles rather than an assessment of skills. If it’s used in that way, it can be a sign of intelligence.

    However, these tests are usually given, taught to, and explained in this manner: “This test will show what skills you know.” Skill based assessments are just that. It is not a sign of intelligence but rather a sign of preparation.

    You say that IQ is largely inherent. But surely we can agree that academic skills are not. Nobody is born knowing the vocabulary and accepted application of Calculus…

    If we we tested for intelligence at 7 years old, many of your current college graduates would be shocked to find that they scored lower than the dropouts. Intelligence and Processing tests don’t ask questions about scientific notation. In a previous career I used to give those tests. That’s not what OUSD needs. We need to develop skills and make sure that all kids get their shot. An honest shot. Right now there is a big variance in quality of school performance.

    We can argue if the schools are causing the success or if the students’ intelligence is the reason for the gap. That’s like asking what comes first the chicken or the egg. My 5 year old son’s response to that age old question was, “The egg. Duh.”

    I think that’s the attitude we have to take. As a teacher, I have seen many students turned around who were labeled as educably handicapped. As a matter of fact, I’ll be going to some college graduations this year of some of those students.

    Any kid can learn. I think you are right on when you say we need to have options for children and families. I like the idea of having those vocational classes available. But I disagree with you on the distict segregating kids into those groups. The last thing we need is an imperfect test or imperfect people making life-changing decisions about a kids’ future.

    Your premise: The schools are being bogged down with incapable students.

    I disagree with your premise I think there are other things bogging down the system. But the fact that you are willing to consider and voice all options is encouraging. We need all voices heard – even if we disagree strongly with some of the premises.

  • Pepe

    Well said, Kareem…I agree with every one of your points. I know much of student success depends on an experienced teacher who believes that every student can be successful. As a teacher, do you have any insights into actual system-wide solutions?

  • Nextset

    Kareem: As I have repeatedly said, the system that I support strictly segregates in assigning schools and programs, students would transfer up or down by request or behavior. If a borderline student wished to enroll in a different program that would be fine. They would be involuntarily transferred back if they failed to maintain standards at the other program. They would not be enrolled at all if they didn’t have pre-requisite courses.

    The different cognitive skill groups have different needs for education/training and different advantages. That’s life. Our schools should recognize this and provide programs that help not damage the students.

    And the major split between the various groups would occur at onset of puberty. In Los Angeles my experience through friends is that although middle class families may enroll in LAUSD through 3rd or 5th grade they get their kids out of there into the $20k/year private schools before middle school. That’s when the differences are manifest and they don’t want their kids associating with the others in the LAUSD programs. The alternative is to move from Los Angeles.

    And many of these people are themselves products of the public schools.

    As far as the IQ thing – measure it however you will, there are many many tests and scoring systems. In the abstract we are talking about brain processing speed. Those who run at the lower speeds have problems with delayed gratification and abstract reasoning – such as reasoning about honesty, violence, crime and sexuality. Such people don’t behave (lifelong) in the “civilized” way the brighter people do. Not that we don’t have bright criminals, we do, but not in such a large ratio.

  • Nextset

    One more point: In this Brave New World people are being tagged with sex registration, strike convictions, loss of voting and gun rights, bars on entering vocations, lifelong consequences… for even misdemeanor convictions. With our Brave New Computer systems (including wireless pocket fingerprint scanners) people can no longer escape these consequences by moving or changing their names.

    And yet our failed public urban school systems can’t teach it’s black and brown students the first thing about these issues. When I see young (under 25) people coming into the criminal courts – including as jurors (they don’t last long) they are utterly clueless about what is happening and why. They know neither the basics or the common things (sex laws, vicarious liability law).

    They are the proverbial babes in the woods, and the woods are full of hazards.

    So when we speak of the significance of OUSD’s graduation rate think of how that district has prepared the drop outs as well as the graduates to survive (stay out of trouble and get a job) in this Brave New World. And if OUSD students are able to survive at age 18, what good is their education?