New dropout formula, same problem

California’s new dropout and graduate estimates are out for the Class of 2010. They are supposed to be more accurate than ever before, as this is the fourth year the state education department has used unique student IDs to track students’ progress through the system.

With four years of data, it didn’t have to make all kinds of crazy projections and extrapolations to guess how many kids were quitting school. It’s basic division — a calculation simple enough for a fifth-grader (or a journalist with a firm grasp on order of operations) to understand!

Oakland’s graduation and dropout rates were among the lowest in the state. There might well be districts out there with worse rates, but I didn’t come across any. Based on these estimates, Latino students in Oakland fare worse than their peers elsewhere in the state, with a four-year graduation rate of 47 percent, compared to 68 percent statewide.

How confident are you that OUSD’s strategic plan will turn this around?

Katy Murphy

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

  • make it go away

    Reaction: So is this a “parent” problem or a school problem? I know it becomes a “crime” problem. Each kid has at least one parent (who was likely also a dropout). Thus the cycle is perpetuated. But dropouts don’t suddenly “happen” one day. First there are more and more unexcused absences from school, a record of suspensions, letters from the District to parents, etc. Then eventually the student starts coming so infrequently and has fallen so far behind that it doesn’t make sense to him/her to come any more. But you would think that a school district drowning with financial problems would make a maximum effort to retain students to get as much ADA as possible. That would mean criminalizing the parent(s) who don’t get their kids to school. This is clearly not the case.

    Second – why do I read in the papers that anyone is surprised at this? I don’t care what Oakland’s record keeping was like before this more accurate report. They must have noticed that 600 freshmen start at Castlemont and only 60 graduate, right?

  • J.R.

    Make it,
    People care NOW, because attention is focused on performance and results(the objective is graduation after all). There is attention and focus, and with that comes questions about how and why education is implemented. In short, tax provided ADA money is on the line and people are scrambling now that they actually NEED to do some work. They realize that people are paying attention, and there is fear in the air.

  • make it go away

    Is it also possible that the high drop-out rate for Latinos (much higher than the rest of the state) reflects that OUSD African-American educators (and politicians) who have run the District for so many years, do not emphasize or are not equipped to deal with Latino students? If I were them I would refer this matter to MALDEF to sue the District for violation of their civil rights. The statistics are truly shameful.

  • Nextset

    The numbers are interesting. Since the method has changed we don’t have a trend established. What we can see is how the various races do here compared with the same groups around CA.

    Evidently it’s not so well.

    What some of the schools districts seem to be doing is setting up wholly different programs at the different campuses and allowing the students to select themselves if they want vocational vs academic vs arts and crafts schools. That allows for badly needed self-segregation. The students can then avoid the people and the standards they want to – and everyone is happier. The idea is to keep the ADA up and the drop rate down. Better for the districts.

    I think OUSD will continue to see performance decline until they finally move in this direction.

    Something that JR said caught my eye. I believe the objective actually is not graduation – it’s nice if a student “graduates” but that’s purely optional. The objective of any District is to keep the ADA up and keep the cash flowing so they can meet payroll and avoid layoffs.

    So I would predict OUSD will have to move towards wildly varied programs on different campuses. The question is does the district have time & political will to get this done before the flight numbers make life too difficult.

    As I said, graduation is optional. But for those who do – what is the relative worth of a OUSD diploma in the marketplace? If the OUSD diploma depreciates as I think it has, there will come a point where people really won’t want to be associated with OUSD and the student numbers will drop in favor of other schools. This will lead to crashing ADA revenue and rounds of closures and layoffs. Like the post office. A death spiral of sorts.

    OUSD needs to do something fast to make itself acceptable as a place to be from. It’s probably time to open a “Lowell” type High School, even if it is not going to be P-C diverse.

  • Makeitgoaway

    I agree with you about a high-performing magnet school….although this will not address the dropout problem. High-performing kids are not dropping out.

  • Catherine

    I have long proposed the idea of tying school attendance to the portion of section 8 the parent is required to pay. School attendance should also be tied to the safety net dollars the parent receives for their child. WIC for preschool and kindergarten students should be tied to attendance and food stamps should be tied to attendance.

    Tardy students should receive half credit for attendance. And tardy should not be the OUSD 31 minutes or more. Students who are not in their classrooms ready to work when the school bell rings should be marked tardy.

    School attendance is now online. This online system should be integrated with the safety net system of a child with the same social security number. No attendance for the school day, no safety net equivalent for the day the following month. We would begin training students how to be on time, ready to work. Parents would begin to take responsibility for the children’s education and we would begin to address the dropout problem.

  • arcoiris

    I agree Makeitgoaway. It doesn’t seem like enough attention or resources are directed towards Latino achievement. Most of the discourse on equity is directed towards African American achievement. Yes, our African American students are underachieving. The same is true for Latino students and in my opinion I do not see how the district is planning to interrupt the pattern.

  • Steven Weinberg

    I would be very interested in knowing the drop out rates for students who select a school out of their neighborhood versus students from the same neighborhood who attend the neighborhood school. It seems to me that open enrollment is Oakland’s major effort to establish equity and no one knows if it really helps at all. Can anyone get this information? (School Board members, I bet you could if you asked.)

  • Nextset

    Makeitgoaway: You should consider the factors that make prole kids stop coming to school. The presence of higher functioning kids and the status they carry is a problem with the lower functioning kids. I didn’t suggest a Lowell type high school in order to get more bright kids staying at OUSD.

    I suggest we segregate the bright kids into their own school so they their presence doesn’t drive out the dull students.

    In order to keep the Black and Mexican low-functioning students in school we need to offer them programs they are able to handle – ie their own schools free from the presence of the bright students. A school where it’s all about them (the dulls).

    You will find that they won’t walk away from their own so easily. This isn’t to say you can’t challenge them – a lot. You can. They will stay when they identify with the school & program even if it’s as demanding.

    The main reason for the dropping out is the dissafection the dull students have for the mixed school. Integrating brights and dulls is a disaster. It damages the lower functioning students – thus the drop rates we see at OUSD.

  • Nextset

    disaffection! Sorry about that. Long day.

    Katy – do you ever do stories about medical/dental neglect of public school students? I’m going to take someone to a Dental School low cost surgery/clinic for treatment. A product of the local “alternative” public high school. They will need extractions and dentures though aged in the 20’s. Some of the people I run into are endentulous by 30. Teeth rotted away to the gumline.

    This person had money for a lot of things other than basic dental care – it’s not exactly the lack of money behind any of this neglect. They have enough money for cigarettes, big screen TVs, cars, tattoos, etc.

    They were never taught to care for their health. While I know parents are to teach these things, if they had decent parents they’d have been in better neighborhoods and better schools (and have been raised better).

    My schools were middle class and we had lectures and visiting dentist presentations in grade school about the importance of care. Does such education exist nowadays in OUSD schools? I see this atmosphere of learned helplessness – not dealing with problems, not asking around for help and options. We learned better than this by 8th grade. And we learned it in school – But to be fair about it maybe we learned the Catholic approved referral list for every kind of problem. I can’t equate Catholic primary education with the secular I suppose – but I take for granted that such trouble would be detected and addressed early on. Maybe not so much at public schools..

    I don’t think the public schools should leave some things to the parent(s) – including birth control, STD education and such things as basic health education. I do equate basic criminal and civil law education as being as important as sex ed along with driver’s ed. I am a radical I suppose…

  • make it go away

    No Nextset. Envy or resentment does not drive drop-out rates. It does get a few Asian students beaten up, but that’s mostly for the money or cell phone. The drop outs literally don’t care about grades – theirs or others.

    In fact, the argument for the high-performing high school is that it is away from the nonsense of the “regular” classroom; thus Tech’s Paedia program or the location of many AP classes at Skyline (regardless of their recent problems). Parent’s with future plans for their children recognize that the best predictor of student behavior is what their peers do.

  • Teacher

    Interesting question, Steven Weinberg. Skyline is often referred to as a “commuter” school. But if I am reading the chart correctly, it has a higher dropout rate (35%) than many of the flatlands schools and most of the small schools (which will be eliminated in another year) that tend to educate mostly neighborhood students. Katy, I would love to see a story on this if you can get it.

  • Nextset

    make it go away: Envy and resentment are your words.

    Not fitting in, being failures – are the words I’d use.

    Drop outs leave largely because they know they are failures at the program they’re enrolled in and there is no point continuing.

    What I’m saying is that they need to be in classes and schools segregated for the lower class and lower cognitive functioning students. Classes and programs that are relevant to them that they can do. Be it driver’s ed and training, motel maiding, tech and vocational classes, Hamburger U, Ditch Digger U, heavy equipment operation – that kind of thing. The academic component would be basic – as much basic as they can handle with as bad as a fair “C” grade. Dick and Jane readers up to Oakland Trib read aloud – whatever.

    No college prep, no “literature” basic writing and math. Heavy emphasis on life skills, consumer skills, etc.

  • Muriel

    OUSD graduation rates are low, in part, because most of our students are not receiving strong high school offerings.OUSD’s response will be more programs unconnected to teaching and learning high school subjects,such that the pervasive institutional barriers to students’ achievement persist. I hope to be proven wrong, and here are some of the legal mandates of an LEA that might improve things.

    First, OUSD could develop and retain strong administrative leadership; now there is a revolving door of principals exacerbated by superintendent turnover. This makes it difficult to establish clean, healthy, orderly,and emotionally stable learning environments for students and adults. Constant change results in inconsistency in program, policies, procedures, and relationships with families.

    Second,in an equitable manner,high schools could get supports and resources for instruction, but currently they receive few. There is a dearth of workshops geared toward strengthening teachers’ areas of expertise. This is especially true for those teaching electives that students need to fulfill A-G, although not all high schools even have these courses. Bottom line – only a minority of OUSD students have access to a high school education.

    Third, students need good teachers and struggling students need the best. For the last 15 years, students in our lowest performing schools do not receive a full year’s instruction from fully credentialed teachers. Students have produced surveys and reports stating that they want strong, expert, and challenging opportunities to learn. There are gifted Oakland teachers with records of success, sprinkled throughout our high schools. They can, along with colleagues and leadership, collaboratively begin the hard work of establishing a district-wide culture of effective instruction – for all students.

    Our students, parents, and community demand excellence and equity as civil rights.

  • Nextset

    Muriel: Your post seems to say that more and better bureaucracy is needed, and that good test scores are a matter of “civil rights”. That sounds like Atlanta and DC policy that lead to the revelation of the schools cooking the tests.

    You don’t seem to acknowledge that education involves both the willingness of the students to be “educated”, the ability of the students to take “education” and the school matching the students to the programs. Since I believe that is the main problem with OUSD, we are on different planets.

    The other elephant in the room for all of us is that the Federal Government is flooding the USA with 3rd world immigrants. In our case Mexicans are moving north up I-5 having saturated Los Angeles and it’s formerly black areas. While they are not the majority in Oakland they will be in the foreseeable future. Immigrants from South America and Mexico sit in the same schools as the Oakland Blacks do now and they take our education and break through into working adults in society. And let’s talk about the Indian and Pakistani immigrants.

    So if we are talking about the failing group – the blacks – you have to admit that they fail (as a group) when others in the same classrooms don’t.

    And this is occurring when we are spending a whole lot of money per student in these schools.

    The problem does not require more money or more bureaucracy. We do need change in the way we set up the various schools and run them.

    Basic reading, writing and math does not require more of anything but discipline – that’s all for that problem.

    So no more money and no more committees.

    And as far as civil rights – there is no civil right to a passing grade or test score for failing work.

    It’s odd that this “education” problem seems to be all post-Great Society. I was talking to a black woman of nearly 90 this weekend – she was telling me that when she grew up (segregated neighborhood and schools) she did not know anybody that couldn’t read. Everybody in her primary/secondary schools could read and write. Now this was pre-black migration to CA – Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee and such. While I wasn’t there, the stories of all the hustling that was going on seem to fit. People did a number of jobs and moved across many states without family. People went from farms to cities. The first 50 years of the 20th Century saw two world wars and the great depression. Somehow people managed to learn how to read and to keep the flying lead and flying knives to manageable levels.

    So as an older person I’m not impressed by these self inflicted so-called problems.

    I believe OUSD has all the money and all the people they need to deal with the problem of black education (if that’s what this is about). No more money and no more people are needed.

  • Teaches at Oakland School

    Too bad we can’t populate the school board with people who want real change, such as Nextset and Catherine and actually get something done instead of just talking about it. I read so many good ideas on this blog. I bet the tardy situation, behavior situation, a Lowell-type school, vocational ed for non-scholastic kids, and all the other good ideas would actually happen. i wonder if the school board actually pays attention to these ideas or perhaps it is not their place. It seems that principals should be handling the tardy situations and behavior at least. The middle school principals should not be allowing 8th graders to graduate without knowing their times tables-I knew quite a few students like that and I always wondered why their teacher never made them learn them. Too much work I guess.

  • Makeitgoaway

    Nextset- but then there were Black families still intact. That was a heck of a generation you are talking about. Those days are past…

    I actually think that positive change “could” come about with an alliance of teachers, parents and administrators working together toward common goals. Being one of a few extraordinary teachers is not enough. But there are not enough interested parents, or talented teachers or gifted administrators to make it happen so far…

    Credentials are not the issue, nor are teacher workshops or retaining administrators, most of whom could not get hired anywhere else. There is WAY too much money spent on outside contractors. Oakland loses more good teachers than it retains every year due to the poor working conditions and pay.

  • Harold

    I have read a few different posts on this blog about Middle School students, moving on to High School unprepared.

    Q. OUSD – Why do we socially promote M.S. Students, who have 0.00 (GPA’s)? Name a program at an OUSD High School that is designed to (specifically) address these type of students? Can anyone?

  • Zinnia

    To Harold-
    8th graders who enter high school unprepared most often become dropouts by 10th grade when they realize they simply cannot keep up. If they last a couple of years, they will go to a continuation school. Otherwise, as far as I know, they are out on the street. I’m sure that we can come up with a better solution.

  • J.R

    If children do not have a solid foundation of knowledge(mastery of the basics)they will fail to keep pace and drop out. We need to end any and all social promotion, and level classes by ability not age. All loafers, malcontents,those who bully and disrupt class must be dealt with swiftly and harshly(with the parents closely engaged as well)some parents do not know how to parent properly and are just breeders. Decent behavior should be a prerequisite for a free taxpayer-funded education, and unruly disruptive behavior should be a ticket to mandatory parent run home-school or military type school.

  • Nextset

    Harold: If OUSD actually intended to run “schools” they would not permit enrollment of students operating much below grade level. If you are running a failure factory you never care how far below grade a new 8th or 9th grader is. Which is the current policy. I wish it would change.

    Students below grade level should be barred from real schools and referred to remediation programs or to alternative schools for life skills & basic skills. These students would (perhaps) not be on a graduation track but rather a job skills track and there’d be no apologies for this. If they caught up through summer school and extra work & retesting they could rejoin their regular cohort.

    OUSD’s unwillingness to do this is why no one trusts their “education”. And we can talk about Atlanta and DC schools the same way. Their school administrations obviously thought they could just cheat forever and people would be fooled by the too-good-to-be-true test scores.

  • Steven Weinberg

    Several years ago, when Oakland did have a fairly strict promotion policy that required middle school students to have a C average for promotion to high school, my principal and I attended the California Middle School Conference. We asked people from many different districts how their schools dealt with students who were retained. In almost every case we were told that their districts did not retain any students, except at a parent’s request. We were told again and again that retention at the middle school level had been proven to be ineffective in helping students.
    My observations during the years that we did retain some students would support that assertion. Neither holding a student back, nor social promotion is an effective policy. What is needed are well-funded programs within the middle schools to decrease, as much as possible, the problems there.

  • Harold

    @Steve – Thanks for responding. In the absence of a “well-funded” effective program, we have a serious problem on our hands.

    O-High, Skyline and Tech are pushing College Prep coursework. That is going to be very difficult for those students arriving at these campuses, without the requisite skills to succeed.

  • Jim Mordecai

    Out of compliance with Ed Code that requires the School Board to pass a standards based promotion policy, Oakland does not have a promotion policy. It does have a graduation policy. Under state administration the state administration, I believe unintentionally, threw out the existing standards base promotion policy. However, the missing policy has never been replaced low these many years.

    Jim Mordecai

  • Muriel

    Throwing out the promotion policy was not unintentional; neither was not enacting a new one.

  • Nextset

    OUSD having a policy of no flunking is why an OUSD diploma’ed applicant for any position cannot be taken at face value. You cannot assume the candidate can even read.

  • livegreen

    Middle Schools do not have the proper environment: children are unsupervised and given the same freedoms and lack of structure that highs schools have. Kids are left on their own to f-up and they do. Parents who can see this chaotic environment and then flee the district.

    Middle Schools need more structure, somewhere in between Elementary School and what they have now.

    And I was very surprised to read in a previous posting how Board Member Tadashi and some supporters here want to gut Middle School after school programs in favor of High Schools. Gee, I wonder if that will make them more prepared?

  • livegreen

    Sorry, Board Member Kakishiba.

  • Nextset

    Got the book “Unequal Childhoods” by Annette Lareau. Very interesting reading. The writer is a sociologist. As usual she approaches the “problem” of different outcomes for people in a society (the USA here) accepting as gospel that the differences are only because of nurture. Biodiversity does not exist for such researchers.

    The writing of observations of the various target children and their families are very useful reads. It illustrates (to me) what a difficult/impossible job an urban teacher will have combining children from the various different socioeconomic groups into one classroom.

    And the differences intensify after puberty. These children researched here appear to be late prepubescent or early pubescent – so the real fat isn’t in the fire yet. That’s where the cognitive differences become more extreme. I do see that she addresses the advantages and the disadvantages of the upbringing of both white and black low class and middle class kiddies. It should be noted that there are some areas of functioning where the higher class kids are not at an advantage – and vice versa.

    Which is reasonable enough. It’s not all doom and gloom for the lower class. Teachers would probably enjoy the book. As far as what to do with the insight and research material, who can say?

    If you drop an upper class child into the ghetto they are going to have problems and will leave. If you drop a ghetto child into Bel Air they are going to freak and will leave. Either way you have problems and if they assimilate into the new reality (not likely) they are going to have further problems when they return to their natal society.

    So what does OUSD tell it’s new teachers when the arrive at, say Castlemont? Should a school district teach the students in (the style of) their native “culture” or try to move them into a middle class/professional class way of being?

    This is where I go back to the idea of different schools for different folks using self-selection rather than the sorting hat. In other words, segregated schools. Except the segregated schools are to feed into occupations. And noncompliance at any district school would result in Fs with little mercy.

    Kind of like 1960.

    OUSD and the other urban schools apparently have some other plan which is to produce better more productive lives for the urban school children. Los Angeles Unified, OUSD, SF-USD and the like.

    Fred Reed has been writing for years now commenting on Urban Racial Issues among other things. His description of urban youth is what I’m worried about:


    Good public schools would avoid these problems. Reed and others believe we are headed for very bad times ala Katrina conditions in the cities. These problems are what the USA public schools were to have prevented.

    Brave New World.

  • http://www.oaklanddental.net/ dentist Oakland ca

    People care NOW, because attention is focused on performance and results. There is attention and focus, and with that comes questions about how and why education is implemented. In short, tax provided ADA money is on the line and people are scrambling now that they actually NEED to do some work. They realize that people are paying attention, and there is fear in the air.