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

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