The State of California Department of Education recently released its annual report on dropout and graduation rates in California. The numbers do not look good: the overall dropout rate in California for the school year 2008-2009 went up to 21.7 percent. That is up from 18.9% in the 2007-2008 school year. This puts California in the middle of the pack, nationwide. Nevada has the highest dropout rate in the nation, at just over 50 percent.
Some school administrators say those numbers can be deceiving. Jane Mills of Palm Springs Unified School district says part of the problem could be inadequate data collection – because some students move out of the school district and receive a second state identification number when they re-enroll in another district, and thus get counted as a dropout because of the snafu. In addition, some students move out of state or out of the country, and re-enroll elsewhere without notifying their previous school where they went.
Nonetheless, Mills says, the dropout numbers are too high, and many schools are attacking the problem in innovative ways. Palm Springs Unified School District has ten Community Liaisons whose job it is to track down students who have stopped coming to school, find out where their difficulties lie, and offer them counseling, etc. to bring them back into the fold. PSUSD also did a study of exactly who their dropouts were, and found that most of them had a common trait: excessive absences and poor academic performance in English and Math in 7th and 8th grades. They also interviewed students who met those criteria but nonetheless did go on to graduate. They found that those students who stayed in school despite difficulties early on did so because someone (like a teacher, coach or counselor) took a special interest in them, or they found a passion for an extracurricular activity, like sports, band or art class. So the district targets at-risk middle schoolers with extra counseling and tutoring to catch them before they get to the point of dropping out. It’s called the Essential Student program.
The Coachella Valley Unified School District struggles with a 28.5 percent dropout rate, in part because of high poverty rates and because so many students’ families move often. They have a special program called Operation Graduation. It’s a partnership with Dell Computers that allows the district to purchase netbooks for $300 apiece. They distribute the laptops to 9th graders who excel at the four A’s: good attendance, strong academics, extracurricular activities, and good attitude. It’s been in place for one year, so it will be a few years before the end of those students’ senior year. At that point it will be clear whether “Operation Graduation” has led to a higher graduation rate and lower dropout rate. You can see the State of California’s report on dropouts and graduation rates at:
Much of this education story sponsored by the California Lottery was shot in the Palm Springs area. In this week’s episode, Heather Dawson hosts the show from the Palm Springs International Film Festival, where she interviewed the mayor and close to a dozen PSHS students! Check it out at www.californialifehd.com!