The Conversation

A weekly discussion of a topic important to Californians

September 13, 2008
Dropping out, adding up
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grads.JPGThis week's topic: high school dropouts.

Nearly one-quarter of California students never make it to graduation, creating what might be the state's biggest social problem. High school dropouts are more likely to commit crimes, lead unhealthy lives and need public assistance, hurting themselves and costing society billions of dollars a year.

The lead piece is by one of the state's top experts in the subject: UC Santa Barbara Professor Russ Rumberger. Among other things, Rumberger points out that over the past five years, the number of dropouts in California has increased nine times faster than the number of graduates. Much of that is thanks to a new, more accurate way of counting dropouts, but the overall number - 24 percent - is a huge cause for concern. Rumberger, who heads the California Dropout Research Project, also offers four ideas for stemming the tide.

We've also got four guest commentators to get the conversation started:

dropoutrates.gifSeetha Ream-Rao is a junior at a Sacramento charter school. She gives a student-eye view on why so many kids drop out and what can be done about it.

Samuel McKissack was a dropout himself, mainly due to drug and alcohol abuse. But he cleaned himself up, got a high school diploma and is now working full time. He suggests kids need an "emotional education" in addition to their academic work.

Alan Bonsteel, president of California Parents for Educational Choice, says county continuation schools are the unnoticed dropout factories in California, and their existence allows regular schools to artificially reduce their dropout rates by sending kids to the county for a quick stop on their way to dropping out for good.

Finally, Mark Wardlaw, a Santa Rosa music teacher, says the state's one-size-fits-all academic standards and expectations are a major cause of the problem. Students who are not college-bound, he says, give up in frustration.

What do you think is at the heart of the problem, and what should we do about it? Please comment below.

Do you have questions about this topic? If so, email me and I will try to run down the answers.

Daniel Weintraub

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About The Conversation

Welcome to The Conversation, where our goal is to provoke and sustain spirited and civil debate on issues central to life in California. I'll offer a topic and starting point for a discussion each week, but we need you to carry it forward from there. Please dive in and join the conversation.
-- Daniel Weintraub

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