The Chronicle had an interesting story in yesterday’s paper (print-only until tomorrow) about the brain drain in the Oakland school district after the fifth grade.
According to this analysis by the Oakland school district, 28 percent of all fifth-graders — and 40 percent of those who scored “advanced” on this year’s reading test — dispersed to non-OUSD middle schools this year.
At Lincoln Elementary School in Chinatown, the city’s first public, non-charter school to win a National Blue Ribbon Award from the U.S. Department of Education, a staggering 77 percent of last year’s fifth-graders left the district, up from 57 percent a few years ago.
Superintendent Tony Smith told Chronicle reporter Jill Tucker, whose son goes to Peralta Elementary in Rockridge (a school with the fifth-highest “leaving rate” in OUSD – 44 percent), that the loss of top students was one explanation for the drop-off in district test scores at the middle and high school level.
I’m sure that’s true at some middle schools, such as Westlake, Claremont and Montera, which are located near strong feeder schools with high OUSD defection rates. But it’s not just high-achievers who leave. If you look at districtwide numbers, the student make-up — categorized by STAR test score tier — changes only slightly after the so-called brain drain.
On this year’s STAR test, for instance, about 54 percent of fifth-graders tested proficient or advanced. Factor in the brain drain, and it goes down to about 50 percent — not exactly a seismic shift. Same with the bottom two tiers: The percentage of students in those levels goes from 17 percent to 19 percent after the class shrinks.
(Data note: The district says there were 3,004 fifth-graders in 2009-10, but there were only 2,748 valid STAR scores, so that’s the denominator I used in my calculations.)
That said, there is a much larger percentage of “advanced” students who leave than students who test at “far below basic,” the lowest of five levels on the STAR. There is also a racial disparity; white and Asian children are more likely than black and Latino children to go out of the district for middle school.
And then there’s the minor issue of OUSD losing 28 percent of its fifth-graders each year. What can — and should — the district do to attract more students to its middle schools? What is it doing already?