skip to main content

Listen

Read

Watch

Schedules

Programs

Events

Give

Account

Donation Heart Ribbon

High School Dropout Rates Better Tracked, Defined

Above: Teens head out after class at a San Diego County high school.

Audio

Aired 5/13/09

California's Department of Education released a new report pinpointing high school dropout rates in the state. The data is based on a new student tracking system that's giving administrators a more accurate picture of the problem in their own districts.

California's Department of Education released a new report pinpointing high school dropout rates in the state. The data is based on a new student tracking system that's giving administrators a more accurate picture of the problem in their own districts.

High school dropout rates are the new hot button issue in education reform. Even President Barack Obama is telling students that if they give up on school, they give up on their country.

But California has never established a system that accurately pinpoints just how many students leave school every year and for what reason. Education officials say it's been hard to tackle the problem because there's not enough solid information.

"We know that we can't wait until a student drops out to determine there is a problem," says Jack O'Connell, California's State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

O'Connell says the state is beginning to get a better understanding of the problem thanks to a system that tracks students over time.

"The student level data that we can now collect, and the information that we collect now about why students leave a school gives us some important insight," O'Connell said. "It is now totally unacceptable for us to say that some students are going to fall through the cracks."

The two-year-old tracking system relies on what's called a student I.D. number -- a serial number assigned to each and every public school student.

Administrators use that number to keep track of a student once she or he stops going to school. O'Connell says that's important because in many districts students were being mistakenly counted as dropouts if they transferred to another school, moved to another state or received a GED.

In the San Diego Unified School District, better accounting resulted in a huge decrease in their high school dropout rate.

Karen Bachofer is in charge of the district's research and evaluation division. She says the rate went from close to 18 percent in 2007 to just nine percent last year. She says the rate dropped because the district worked hard to find out what happened.

"We called all the last known contact numbers for students who didn't return as we expected," Bachofer said. "The schools searched them out, asked their friends where they might be. (Officials) contacted anybody that might know about their whereabouts. So we made a very concerted effort to track down all students."

And, Karen says, that's important because accurate data speaks volumes, especially to parents who look at the numbers when they consider their child's education.

"Parents make judgments about schools and where they want to send their students based on that information, Bachofer said. "In addition, even more importantly, we want to make sure that we focus our energies and resources on the students who really are dropouts so we can recover them and bring them back."

And for those students, the district has launched a number of new initiatives including credit recovery programs, graduation coaches, more career technical programs and online classes.

San Diego Unified is a stand-out among other large districts with its nine percent dropout rate. By comparison, Los Angeles has a 34 percent high school dropout rate while Long Beach has a 16 percent rate. Statewide, the dropout rate is at 20 percent.

Russell Rumberger is director of the California Dropout Research Project at UC Santa Barbara. He's pleased California finally developed a more accurate accounting process. But, he says, the real test is how school districts use the data.

"Adding a little recovery program here or getting a few more kids to take a class is not going to solve the problem," Rumberger said. "It is more fundamental than that. So the solution to the problem is really revising the way we do high school for everyone, including dropouts. That's a harder agenda to fulfill."

But Rumberger says he's glad everyone is starting to pay attention to the dropout problem. However, dropouts in high school aren't the only issue. The state also wants to track students who are quitting in seventh and eighth grades. Officials say research shows kids start showing signs of dropping-out way before their freshmen year in high school. They say that information could help schools reach-out to these kids before its too late.

Please stay on topic and be as concise as possible. Leaving a comment means you agree to our Community Discussion Rules. We like civilized discourse. We don't like spam, lying, profanity, harassment or personal attacks.

comments powered by Disqus