If you live in South Los Angeles and attend Jefferson High School, you have less than a 50 percent chance of graduating from the 12th grade . . . assuming you make it to the ninth grade at all. If you attend school at Crenshaw, the chances of finishing high school are 50/50.

Those stats on the likelihood of graduating, come from a report recently released by the California Department of Education that examines the drop-out rate for students in grades nine through 12 during the 2006-07 academic year.

The state-wide rate is 24.2 percent for students overall; 49.5 percent in Lynwood Unified; 43.9 percent in Inglewood Unified; 43.3 percent in Compton Unified; and 33.6 percent in the Los Angeles Unified.

Even worse than these numbers is the 41.6 percent state-wide rate for African American youth. This is the highest percentage for any ethnic sub-group significantly outpacing the numbers for American Indian/Alaska Native of 31.3 percent and 30.3 percent for Hispanics.

The state is saying that these numbers represent a much better picture of the drop-out rate than ever before because of the unique student identification number that has now been assigned to every pupil in a public school in California.

This new number enables school administrators to specifically track what happens to a student who moves to any public school (including charters) in the state.

According to State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell, while the drop-out rate is much too high, the new student identification system gives officials “a much clearer picture of why students drop out. This is data-rich information that will be a powerful tool to better target resources, assistance and interventions to keep students in school and on track.”

The numbers are not really all that shocking to several former Los Angeles Board of Education members.

“When I was on the board in the 1990s, I had all of the drop outs for all the high schools pulled, and it was shocking. But no one really wanted to address it. Everybody thought that students dropped out at the beginning of 12th grade, but I said no, no, no. When I had the records pulled, it showed that the 12th graders were not dropping out. It showed that eighth graders, ninth graders, 10th graders and 11th graders were dropping out,” explained former school board member Barbara Boudreaux.

Boudreaux went on to say that people are not doing enough to educate children and retain them in school particularly African American and Hispanic youngsters. In fact, added the former educator, they are actually pushing these students out by not encouraging them academically and “throwing out the best programs and putting in programs that don’t work at all.”

Genethia Hudley Hayes said the drop out numbers have been high for the last 20 years, and she too believes students are being lost well before the 10th grade.

Both Hayes and Boudreaux say they do not trust the number (entirely) because they believe some undercounting has gone on.

Hayes also questions the need to keep reporting the numbers.

“They’ve been reporting the drop-out rate for the last 20 years. . . What’s the point of reporting to the public the drop-out rate, which is horrendous by any standards and never reporting how it is that they will determine curriculum changes (to address the high rates); access to quality teachers or have conversations about how to make school relevant to student populations.”

In essence, Hayes is asking, okay we’ve got the numbers; known the numbers now “what next?”
Relevance is something that may be sorely lacking in many schools, concurs Michael Dolphin, who is the division chief for the Workforce Services section of the state Employment Development department. He also is also on the board of Unite L.A., a leadership coalition aimed at improving the workforce readiness of area students.

“A real connection isn’t there. I think back in the day, school (was more connected to the real world, particularly in terms of the real world of work. Now young people cannot see themselves connected to anything,” explained Dolphin, who believes that one solution is obvious.

“We’ve got to connect the dots between education and real work; between education and their future in the world of work. And we have to find more opportunities to example that. And that’s not just educating young people in class, but also educating them outside of class.”

Current school board member Marguerite LaMotte had this to say: “As a parent, former teacher and school administrator, a member of the community and as a member of the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education, the recent California Dropout Report substantiates my constant concern about students who drop out prior to receiving their high school diploma.

My concerns were embellished by the number of e-mails and telephone calls I received after the report was published. Most of them pointed their finger solely at the Los Angeles Unified School District accompanied with the query, ‘What is the district or you going to do about it?’
I wish it were as simple as the district or my just “fixing the situation because it would be a ‘done deal’ because we would not be here if we did not want the best for all of our students.

Rather than blaming the abominable dropout statistics solely on LAUSD, if we are going to successfully decrease the number of dropouts, the problem must be approached as a shared responsibility by ALL stakeholders responsible for our children’s education, including students, parents (biological, foster, group and extended), teachers, administrators, all school staffs, LAUSD, faith-based organizations, civic and social groups, unions, municipal entities, elected officials, etc. Based upon the expectation of ALL stakeholders that students will not drop out before graduating, differentiated resources must be provided as needed. All stakeholders must also be knowledgeable of their roles and be aware of the annual accountability collaboratively agreed upon by all stakeholders.”