"Deploying a long-promised tool to track high school dropouts, the state released numbers Wednesday estimating that 1 in 4 California students -- and 1 in 3 in Los Angeles -- quit school. The rates are considerably higher than previously acknowledged but lower than some independent estimates.This report strikes me as an enormous cry for help. What the hell is going on in our public schools that so many children are dropping out. What is the root cause? Is it financial? Are students forced to drop out to support their families or is there some other combination of factors that are driving them to drop out.
The figures are based on a new statewide tracking system that relies on identification numbers that were issued to California public school students beginning in fall 2006.The ID numbers allow the state Department of Education to track students who leave one school and enroll in another in California, even if it is in a different district or city. In the past, the inability to accurately track such students gave schools a loophole, allowing them to say that departing students had transferred to another school when, in some cases, they had dropped out.
The new system -- which will cost $33 million over the next three years, in addition to the millions spent for the initial development -- promises to eventually provide a far better way to understand where students go, and why. But state and school district officials acknowledged that the data initially available Wednesday, after a final one-day delay, were limited in usefulness.
"I think as the system stabilizes, you will get better data," said Esther Wong, assistant superintendent for planning, assessment and research in the Los Angeles Unified School District. For now, she said, the numbers tell only part of the story, albeit more accurately than in the past.
Jack O'Connell, state superintendent of public instruction, presented the new data, based on the 2006-07 school year, as a quantum leap forward in understanding the nature of the dropout problem. But, he said, "no one will argue that the number of dropouts is good news. . . . It represents an enormous loss of potential."
Granted there are some problems with the reporting that led to this, but anyway you slice it there is an issue here that cannot be ignored.