High school dropouts up

High school students in San Francisco and San Mateo counties are dropping out at much higher rates than educators previously thought, according to new data released by the California Department of Education on Wednesday.

San Francisco’s historic dropout rate, which has fluctuated between 1 percent and 2 percent per year in the previous decade,is closer to 5.2 percent per year — 21.2 percent for a four-year period, compared with 24.2 percent statewide, according to the CDE.

On the Peninsula, where one-year dropout rates ranged from 1.3 percent to 2.2 percent this decade, the one-year rate for 2006-07 was 4 percent, and 15.6 percent for a four-year period.

The new dropout numbers were calculated with a different method than previously used by the state: For the first time, data were gathered by tracking every individual student in the state, CDE officials said.

Ethnic minorities — particularly Hispanics, blacks, Pacific Islanders and American Indians — were much more likely to drop out, according to the newly released calculations. In San Francisco, 33.4 percent of Hispanics dropped out of high school during a four-year period, and San Mateo County lost 24.4 percent of its Hispanic students.

“This is a huge problem — and very important for the future of California, because they’re our largest-expanding ethnic group,” said Alan Bonsteel, president of California Parents for Educational Choice, a group that believes dropout rates are still being underreported.

Educators, both Bay Area and statewide, took the new rates as a wake-up call.

“Twenty-four percent of students dropping out is not good news,” said Jack O’Connell, state superintendent of public instruction. “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 new information can help schools determine where interventions are most needed and, as dropout rates are updated each year, better understand which ones are working, said Cheryl Hightower, associate superintendent for instructional services at the San Mateo County Office of Education.

Schools also must work harder to boost students’ academic achievement, so they don’t become so discouraged that they leave, according to San Francisco Unified School District Superintendent Carlos Garcia.

“We need kids to be in school so we can serve them,” Garcia said. “And we need to serve them well when they are there.”

bwinegarner@sfexaminer.com

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