Thursday, March 24, 2005

African-American and Latino students are earning high school diplomas at alarmingly low rates

A new study by the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University warns that California's high school graduation rates are not accurate and that African-American and Latino students are earning high school diplomas at alarmingly low rates:

California's overall graduation rate -- or the percentage of freshman who earn a regular diploma four years later -- is about 71 percent, according to both state officials and the researchers.

But the state does not compute statewide graduation rates by race or ethnicity, and when the researchers did that with a new formula, they found that only 57 percent of African-American students and 60 percent of Latino students graduated on time in 2002.

It's even worse for male students: 50 percent for African-Americans and 54 percent for Latinos.

But most troubling, the researchers said, was the graduation rate they computed for Latino and African-American students in the state's 10 largest school districts. The researchers did not examine other districts, including those in Santa Clara County.

``Large urban school districts in California have become dropout factories,'' said Gary Orfield, director of the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University, who called for more accurate reporting. ``The economic and social impacts of this dropout crisis are too enormous for Californians to ignore.''

State education officials said the study's conclusion, which computes graduation rates using enrollment data tracked through grade levels, is not surprising. And while they report a graduation rate of almost 87 percent to the federal government for the 2001-02 school year using a federal formula, they also report on the Department of Education Web site that the rate is probably closer to 71 percent.

To resolve that conflict -- and get a much clearer picture of how many students start and then finish high school -- they want to implement a system that would track individual students as they move from grade to grade and even school to school in California or out of state. At the moment, for example, if a student leaves San Jose Unified and moves to Arizona or Mexico, there's no way to determine if the student is still in school.

But while that tracking program has been approved by the Legislature, the state's budget crisis has delayed implementation for at least another year.

``The reality is that no one knows the exact figure,'' said Jack O'Connell, California's superintendent of public instruction.

Students leave school for a number of reasons. Academic struggles, teen pregnancy, poverty, and the need to care for younger siblings are all factors. Others are expelled, in jail, leave the country, move to other states or go straight into community college programs before their graduation date.

``There's clearly a problem,'' said Donna Rothenbaum of the California Department of Education. ``Our graduation rate has been around 70 percent, and it's alarming. It's a number that we want to see go higher. More than 70 percent of our kids should be graduating high school after four years.''

Santa Clara County files an annual dropout report with the state, but officials say the figures are considered to be unreliable because individual students are not tracked.

In that report, the county listed its 2002-03 dropout rate as 6.4 percent. The figure is an estimate of students who would drop out over a four-year period, based on information collected in a single year. The statewide dropout rate for the same period is 12.6 percent. For San Jose Unified, the figure is 4.2 percent.

There is no official countywide graduation rate. However, districts are required to file their own rates -- as well as that of their individual high schools -- to conform with federal No Child Left Behind requirements.

In that report, San Jose Unified lists its graduation rate for the class of 2002-03 as 93.8 percent, but officials say that figure is almost certainly overstated. For the same year, the district said the dropout rate among Latinos in the district was 6.1 percent, among Asians it was 0.3 percent and among whites it was 3.3 percent.

In the news:

Report blasts state over dropouts Graduation rates inflated, study finds

Calif. Dropout Problem Said Underestimated

Civil rights group finds California underestimated dropouts

Half of Latino, black students drop out of San Diego schools

High school dropout rates underreported

Graduation rates lower than stated

Study finds California dropout rates higher than thought

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