Harvard study says state high school dropout rates higher than documented

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Only 71 percent of California’s high school students scheduled to graduate in 2002 actually did, according to The results of a recent study by the Harvard University Civil Rights Project.

That number is disputed by data from the California Department of Education, which states that 87 percent of the state’s high school students graduated that same year.

The rates for African Americans and Latinos are far lower than those of other students in the state, according to the statistics.

Only 60 percent of Latinos and 57 percent of African American students graduated in 2002. By comparison, 78 percent of Caucasian students and 84 percent of Asian students graduated.

According to the study, Latinos make up about 45 percent of all students statewide, African Americans make up about 8 percent, Caucasians make up about 35 percent, and Asians make up about 11 percent, according to the 2002 statistics. Statewide, there were 6 million students, 988 public school districts, and 8,705 public schools in 2002, according to the report.

In the same year, the Los Angeles Unified School District saw only 47 percent of its African Americans and 39 percent of Latinos graduate.

“The high schools are broken,” said Ann Stanton, director of the Youth Program at the James Irvine Foundation, which has committed $70 million over the next five years to support California’s youth.

Stanton said part of the problem is that schools are overcrowded, which makes it nearly impossible for students to get the personalizes attention they need. Also, the least-prepared teachers are always sent to the schools with the most problems.

“It’s very hard for a young person to deal with classrooms when they don’t have the skills in mathematics and English to succeed,” Stanton said.

She said it’s important that smaller learning communities are created within schools, and that more parents become involved. She also said it’s not realistic to push out higher standards for high schools without students being convinced that what they’re learning is going to benefit them in the future.

Harvard study researchers used a method believed to be more accurate than what the California Department of Education uses to get their results.

“California adds the official dropouts to the diploma recipients and treats that number as the total number of students,” said Daniel Losen, Harvard researcher. “Of course, all the missing students that don’t tell the school they are dropping out are excluded from the state’s calculations. Conversely, the (method used by the Harvard study) looks at the ninth grade enrollment, and follows the enrollment up through grade 12 and receipt of a diploma. So that estimate reflects all the students that go missing that California’s method ignores.”

After the 2001-02 school year, the California Department of Education made some adjustments to its method of calculating graduation rates, but it still differs from the one used in the new study.