A group charged with studying the dropout problem in California has released a set of recommendations to the Legislature to improve the state’s graduation rate.
“Solving California’s Dropout Crisis” was released by the California Dropout Research Project, based at the University of California, Santa Barbara. The report suggests modifying the accountability system, improving the data system, and building the capacity of schools, districts and the state to address the problem.
According to CDRP, California has adopted content standards and an accountability system; however, numerous studies of systemic reform show that each level of the educational system lacks the capacity to provide support to the next.
After 10 months of studying the state’s dropout crisis and deliberating solutions, the CDRP’s Policy Committee issued a blueprint for action by the state, school districts and schools, saying the problem requires a systemic approach.
Specific recommendations include the following:
What the state should do
What districts should do
- Fix the “Accountability Progress Reporting” system at the state and federal levels, including the California Academic Performance Index, Alternative School Accountability Model and Adequate Yearly Progress.
- Collect and report more useful dropout data and the progress for improving graduation rates.
- Develop high school reform standards; create “lighthouse” districts.
- Undertake middle school reform, similar to high school model.
- Make investments in proven dropout prevention strategies; target the most disadvantaged schools.
- Re-examine high school graduation requirements.
What schools should do
- Mobilize the community to address the problem.
- Adopt proven prevention strategies.
- Implement strategies with benchmarks, timelines and outcomes.
Develop and use data to monitor strategies.
- Partner with outside organizations for support and to help identify and monitor strategies.
- Create a personalized learning environment for students and teachers.
- Provide academic and social support.
- Provide rigorous and meaningful instruction.
- Create connections to the real world.
ACSA was present during a briefing on the report, during which Russell Rumberger of the UC Santa Barbara School of Education described the main recommendations. Rumberger outlined such ideas as changing the API to reflect dropout data, graduation rates and ninth grade promotion rates, improving data collection, closing some schools, partnering with support organizations and creating personalized learning environments.
“Coordination among all players – the state, school district and schools – is essential to raising graduation rates,” Rumberger said. “We need to get serious about solving the dropout crisis and doing so will require a combination of pressure and support from the state, and commitment to implement reform standards in districts and schools where the problem is most severe.”
Overall, ACSA supports many of the recommendations outlined in the report. For example, ACSA supports the recommendations for a comprehensive data system that reports more useful information on dropouts. In fact, ACSA believes such a system must be the foundation for any future reforms concerning dropouts.
ACSA also supports the recommendation that districts mobilize their communities to address the dropout problem.
“Knowing individual students and their families and working with those families is one of the best methods of dropout prevention,” wrote ACSA Legislative Advocate Sherry Skelly Griffith in a letter to the Senate and Assembly.
ACSA’s main concern with the report is the use of extremely inaccurate dropout data to claim that 100 high schools represent 40 percent of the dropout problem in California. The view is the “dropout crisis is concentrated within relatively few schools and districts,” primarily alternative education and charter schools. The report therefore calls on reform efforts to begin in these areas. However, it does not recommend how this is to be accomplished, and it fails to fully recognize the purpose and structure of alternative education.
“There may be schools within the 100 identified that truly need reform. However, without recognition of why and how alternative education is structured to meet both short-term and long-term needs of students, the Legislature has not been given a full and comprehensive report,” wrote Griffith.
ACSA Educational Options Council President Robin Geissler said after reviewing the report during their recent meeting in Sacramento, council members have grave concerns regarding the flawed data.
“To claim that 100 high schools in the state represent 40 percent of the dropout problem and that these dropouts are concentrated in alternative education programs and charter schools is a simplistic, misleading and irresponsible premise,” Geissler said. “The report acknowledges that the data from these 100 schools is inflated, and thus in our opinion, highly questionable.”
Geissler said the data is the result of California’s current method of collecting enrollment and dropout data, which is based on a single day in October (CBEDS day).
“For those of us working valiantly in alternative education to save kids, the depth of mobility for our at-risk students, many of whom have been homeless, in foster homes, in juvenile court schools, and struggling with addiction issues, is an enormous problem not addressed by the California Dropout Research Project Report’s study,” she said.
This current method of data collection further illustrates the state’s need to have a more accurate data collection system.
“The Ed Options Council supports a comprehensive, statewide data system, such as CALPADS, to assure the accurate and equitable reporting of student dropout data,” Geissler said. “Keeping students engaged in school and on track for achievement is the goal of every alternative education program. This report does not accurately reflect our enormous rate of success with at-risk students.”
Geissler and other members of the Ed Options Council are concerned with the report’s attempt to target and blame alternative education programs for the high dropout rate in California. Take one look at the good work these schools are doing to help the most at-risk students and it is clear this report is misleading.
“For those of us working in the trenches every day with potential dropouts, going to incredible lengths to keep them in school, out of gangs, off of drugs, while providing food, shelter, counseling and interventions daily, it represents a misrepresentation of data and an unjustified slap in the face for our efforts,” Geissler said. “I would challenge and encourage legislators to visit alternative education programs to see first hand the heroic efforts taking place to prevent dropouts.”
Geissler said there are numerous Model Continuation High Schools and Exemplary Programs throughout the state that could serve as support for best practices on dropout prevention.
“On the Educational Options Council, we want legislators to see, as we do every day, the faces of the kids who have turned their lives around and who are thriving in college, technical schools, or in the workforce as a result of the dedication and commitment of these special schools environments,” she said.
Geissler said these alternative educational “schools of promise” are full of amazingly dedicated people who are committed to their students’ achievement of success.
“The tenacious staff members refuse to give up on kids,” she said. “They have taught their students to value themselves and to respect those who are different. They have inspired their students to believe in themselves and to persist against all odds. They have made that critical mass difference and have saved kids’ lives.
“In many respects, these schools are the only buffer between life and death, hope and despair, freedom and incarceration for these young adults. Those of us dedicated to making the ‘tipping point’ difference in the lives of at-risk teenagers are daily beating the odds.”
According to CDRP, each year 120,000 Californians reach age 20 without a high school diploma, costing the state $46.4 billion dollars over a lifetime. Students who drop out are more likely to have lower incomes, be unemployed, engage in criminal activities, have health problems and be on welfare.
The report illustrates that, if present trends continue, 39 percent of California’s jobs, by 2020, will require a college education yet only 33 percent will have a college degree. Likewise, California will have twice as many workers without a high school diploma – 22 percent – and only 11 percent of the jobs will be available to them.
“This report shines needed light on a problem we cannot afford to ignore,” said state Sen. Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, chair of the Senate Select Committee on High School Graduation and a member of the CDRP Policy Committee.
The entire report is posted on the CDRP Web site at www.lmri.ucsb.edu/dropouts/.