Friday, December 10, 2010

Dropout rate for Calif. black students hits 37%

Thus greatly limiting their options for legal economic activity

More than a third of California's African American public high school students dropped out before graduation day, a startling number and one that's on the rise, according to 2009 data released Tuesday.

The 37 percent African American dropout rate, up three percentage points from the prior year, was far above that of any other ethnic subgroup. Hispanic students had the second highest rate at 27 percent.

Locally, San Francisco cautiously celebrated a 9 percent overall dropout rate, a stark contrast to Oakland's 40 percent, numbers still under review for accuracy.

The statewide statistics highlight a pervasive achievement gap in test scores and graduation rates that persists despite focused efforts to boost the academic performance of black, Hispanic and low-income students, state education officials said.

Overall, 22 percent of state students dropped out of high school, according to the new data, up from 19 percent the year before.

The numbers are more than a year old. They were released several months later than usual because of problems ramping up a new system that can follow individual students' progress in California public schools, even if they move, said state schools Superintendent Jack O'Connell.

"We now have a data system that allows us to track students more accurately and have honest conversations about how to improve graduation rates and reduce dropouts among all subgroups of students," O'Connell said.

O'Connell blamed the increase on state budget cuts, which have resulted in larger class sizes, fewer art and music classes, cuts to sports, fewer counselors and less access to career/technical courses - all programs that can help keep struggling or at-risk students in school.

In addition, drastic cuts to summer school have prevented students from catching up on credits during the break, meaning they can't graduate on time and too often give up. "Clearly the dropout rates in California are too high, unacceptable and absolutely must be addressed," O'Connell said.

Some good news

The higher dropout rate was the bad news Tuesday, but there was also good news - the state's graduation rate is also up, O'Connell said.

While that might sound contradictory, the two statistics aren't completely interconnected, given a fluctuating third group of students, which includes those who move out of state, die, go to jail or take the GED test before graduating.

In 2009, 70.1 percent of those who started high school in the state graduated, up from 68.5 percent the year before. Hispanic students saw the biggest gain in diplomas, with 60 percent graduating, a nearly five-percentage-point increase.

While O'Connell said the state dropout and graduation numbers are reliable, localized data are still under review for accuracy at the district level, given the new system.

High Oakland rate

In Oakland, for example, the dropout rate hit a whopping 40 percent in 2009, a number that has fluctuated wildly the past few years, up from 28 percent in 2008 and 36 percent in 2007.

While there is concern about the fluctuations, "these numbers are a little bit closer to what we've been hearing anecdotally," said Troy Flint, a district spokesman. "The percentage is not as important as realizing this is probably the most critical problem facing the district."

The district is focusing on internship programs and coursework that meets student interests, as well as offering the core curriculum, Flint said. "We're trying to be more creative about making it more interesting for kids," he said.

San Francisco's trend

In San Francisco, district officials were pleased with a 9 percent dropout rate, down from 18 percent the year before, and 20 percent in 2007.

Even if the exact numbers are off a bit, the trend seems clear, said Gentle Blythe, district spokeswoman. "It shows that the work we've been doing over the last few years to decrease truancy and increase (daily) attendance has had an effect on these numbers," she said.

The district has a partnership with the district attorney's office to compel attendance, as well as online courses and limited summer school specifically for students behind in credits.

"We know that being in school on a regular basis is a precursor to school success," Blythe said. "The more school students miss, the more likely they are to drop out and become discouraged."


Poor British white boys 'more likely to struggle at primary school

White kids could be more traumatized by the violent atmosphere that characterizes British "sink" schools

Half of poor white boys leave primary school without a decent grasp of English and mathematics, damning figures show. White British boys from the most deprived families perform worse at the age of 11 than any other group, it was disclosed. They are around 50 per cent less likely to start secondary education with an acceptable standard of the three-Rs than other pupils.

Poor children from black African, black Caribbean, Chinese, Indian, Bangladeshi and Pakistani families all performed better than their white British classmates, figures show. This means thousands of children struggle to write complex sentences, spell accurately or use basic percentages and fractions after seven years of education.

The disclosure – in figures published by the Department for Education – prompted claims that Labour had “let down” young people from the most deprived backgrounds. It comes just days after a major report showed Britain had plummeted in international league tables charting standards of reading, maths and science in secondary schools over the last decade.

Nick Gibb, the Schools Minister, said: "These figures reveal that our education system is letting down half of all 10 and 11-year-old boys who qualify for free school meals. “It is not acceptable that at the end of primary school these children are still not reaching the standard in English and maths they need to flourish at secondary school.

“After seven years of primary school children need to be fluent in these basic skills which is why the Government is putting such an emphasis on improving pupils’ reading ability in the first years of primary school.

"We want to raise academic standards for all young people and to close the attainment gap between those from poorer and wealthier backgrounds, so starkly demonstrated by today’s figures.”

According to figures, 73.5 per cent of all 11-year-olds reached the standard expected for their age group in Sats tests taken this summer, compared with 72 per cent a year earlier.

Data shows white British boys eligible for free meals – the Government’s standard measure of deprivation – were the worst performing group, other than those from gipsy and traveller backgrounds. Only 50.1 per cent of these children – 11,375 – hit targets in both English and maths.

This compared with 68 per cent of poor Indian boys and 66 per cent of those from Chinese families. Some 53.5 per cent of poor boys from black Caribbean backgrounds – traditionally among the worst performing pupils – hit national targets in the three-Rs, it was disclosed.

Among girls, poor white British pupils were also the worst performing group. Some 56.7 per cent achieved good results in England and maths – 6.6 percentage points higher than boys.

Around a quarter of primary schools – 4,000 in total – did not take part in the tests this year following boycotts by two teaching unions, the National Union of Teachers and the National Association of Head Teachers.


Australia: New national curriculum will raise the bar in Queensland schools (?)

Good if it's true, but colour me skeptical

STUDENTS are facing a "more demanding" curriculum that not only goes back to the basics but also raises the bar in literacy and mathematics, Australia's curriculum head says.

But experts warn standards under the new Australian curriculum may be too high for some of the state's youngest and more marginalised students.

Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority chair Professor Barry McGaw said the national curriculum, released this week, placed a heavier emphasis on grammar in the early years, which would now be taught more systematically in Queensland.

He said the Australian curriculum would stretch top-performing students "by being more demanding, by raising the requirements in maths, by putting more literature into the primary school" and "by being more explicit about literacy".

Prof McGaw also warned that Queensland's Year 7 teachers would need more professional development to implement the new curriculum than some of their peers interstate, where Year 7 was in secondary school and taught by specialist teachers with access to specialist facilities.

In Prep, a higher level of knowledge will also be required in some areas by Queensland students.

The four to six-year-olds will be expected "to read short, predictable texts aloud with some fluency and accuracy" and count to and from 20 from any starting point.

QUT School of Early Childhood Professor Donna Berthelsen said reading could be a problem for those marginalised children who did not have particularly advanced literacy skills.

Queensland Association of State School Principals president Norm Hart said it had always been understood the developmental range in four to six-year-olds was quite extensive, with some able to read and others not.

The national curriculum achievement standards are still to be finalised, with ministers and the authority agreeing to continue to work on them before signing off on a final version next year.

A Queensland Studies Authority spokesman said the Australian and Queensland curriculums for the Prep year were fairly closely aligned, with expectations of what children should know and be able to do being very similar.


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