Friday, July 18, 2008

California Dropout Rate and Money

California has a 1 in 4 Dropout Rate

California has a new system for accounting for students as they move from one school district to another. For the first three years the system will cost more than $33 million. The initial results indicate that California has a 24.2% dropout rate, far higher than the 13.9% reported last year using the previous method.

Although a 24% dropout rate is dismal, the good news is that California has a better way of tracking students. Previously, when a student stopped attending class, a truancy officer might check on the student if alerted by a conscientious teacher. But if a student checked out of school, there was little to no follow up to the whereabouts of the student.

It's Really About the Money

In a related editorial in the LA Times, the author states
"The Los Angeles Unified School District put its numbers [dropout rate] at about a third... Despite some of the rhetoric in the accountability movement, the dropout rates are not entirely the fault of public schools. Teachers cannot put an end to gangs or mend troubled families or solve poverty; yet all of these are elements of academic failure. The job of preparing a new generation is daunting; it will require a comprehensive approach that addresses health and welfare issues as well as educational ones.

But schools can and in some cases do make a big difference. San Jose Unified School District, for example, is an urban district with a 13% dropout rate. Yet despite the common wisdom that higher standards prompt more teenagers to drop out, San Jose pushes all of its students to complete a college-prep curriculum. Its Latino students are nearly twice as likely to do so as their counterparts across California, and their dropout rate, at 19.5%, is more than 10 points lower than the statewide figure and 15 points lower than L.A. Unified's."
The author is explaining that, because of the higher standards, the dropout rate is less in San Jose than it is in Los Angeles, especially for Latino students.

What the author doesn't mention, is that the median family income in San Jose, last year, was $87,941, while it was $44,713 in Los Angeles, (according to That is more than double!

In one of my recent blogs I mentioned that Marin County has the top schools in the country by SAT scores. In California, Marin has the highest median income and Santa Clara ranks second (San Jose is the county seat of Santa Clara County).

To give readers perspective: I recently visited a Marin middle school that had gardens and lawns, and every student had a MacBook (an Apple laptop) that they could bring home. In the same week, I visited a Middle School in Oakland, situated in the middle of a field of asphalt, not a tree in sight, and the building had paint peeling from the ceilings. Where would you want to stay in school?

The mathematical equations:
higher median income = better school materials and facilities
higher median income = more rigorous curriculum
higher median income = higher SAT scores
higher median income = fewer dropouts


uglyblackjohn said...

Are the schools structured correctly? Is separating students by age and grade better than separation by performance? Does mixing smart kids with more challenged kids hold the smart kids back or does it help them learn to relate to various types of children?
While i'd like to see a dropout rate closer to 5%, what are sucessful schools in challenged districts doing that other districts could emulate.
All this to ask; Are we getting the best results and do we have the best systems in place to get those results?

MathChique said...

Hi John,
You ask great questions. I don't know the answers. The issues are extremely complex.
Academically, the current trend in ideology seems to be to bring the lower students up, by mixing them with higher students (whether the idea is implemented is another question).
There was a Swiss mathematician, Kurt Godel, who proved that every system is incomplete or inconsistent. I interpret this to mean that there are down sides to every system.
Right now, the U.S. ranks 25th out of 29 developed nations in high school mathematics. Our best students rank lower than the mid-range students in Japan.
If we mix our highest students with our lowest, all will go toward the middle. The lowest come up, but the highest come down.
"Tracking" has been taboo for a long time. So, there has been a clear march toward mediocracy in mathematics.
Then we need to look at economics. See the article, 'The Next Kind of Integration', published in the NYT yesterday.


The question becomes, "What are our core values, and what do we want for our culture?"

P.S. I have been home-schooling my 6 year old granddaughter and have some suggestions for math if you are interested.

uglyblackjohn said...

Oh...I'm through with summer school tutoring. I need a break from children's books for a while.
I'll look at that article.

Anonymous said...

What the article fails to mention about the difference between the middle school in Marin county and that in Oakland, is the difference in the schools is more than just a fresh coat of paint. There is a difference in the responsibility level of the students and their families. I teach in Lake Elsinore, California. I see students in the calculus class who come from stable, honest, hard working families who could take care of a macbook. I teach students in the remedial classes who break the pencils I loan them just for fun. I would never hand them expensive equipment. Wake up people. The higher median income is not the cause of the better education, it is only an indicator of a more responsible, stable group of parents who value education and make sure their students are better prepared for more rigorous curriculum and will not allow their child to waste the teacher's time or drop out.

MathChique said...

I was pointing out a relationship between money and success. I didn't state that either was the causal factor. That is a chicken and egg argument.

Rich kids behave badly at school too. When the parents are asked to meet with the vice principal because of the incorrigible behavior of their child, they bring their attorney.

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