Bringing some good news to the state's embattled public education system, a state Department of Education report released Monday showed another decline in California's high school dropout rate last year.
The three-year dropout rate for the Class of '92 was 16.6%, marking an almost 34% reduction since 1986, the first year data was collected on the number of students who entered 10th grade but left school before graduating. The dropout rate for the Class of '91 was 18.2%.
The decline has continued almost uninterrupted toward the goal of former state Supt. of Public Instruction Bill Honig, who sought to push the dropout rate below 10% by the turn of the century.
"It's not good enough, but it sure is better," William D. Dawson, acting state superintendent of public instruction, said of the data.
"There is no single silver bullet, but there are 1,000 individual things that have a cumulative effect, and we're seeing them pay off," Dawson said.
He cited special state funding for dropout prevention programs at some schools, changes in curricula and teaching, partnerships with business, and a variety of intensified, more sophisticated approaches to identifying and working with students at risk of failing.
All the state's major ethnic groups showed improvements in their dropout rates, although those for African-Americans and Latinos remained considerably above the state average, and their gains were not as strong as those for Anglos and Asians. The rate for African-Americans slid to 26.4% for 1992, a decline of 26.1% since 1986; for Latinos, it dropped to 24.6%, a 29.9% decline. The 1992 dropout rates for the other major groups were 10.8% for Anglos (down 46.5%) and 9.2% for Asians (down 43.6%).
The continuing improvement statewide provided some good news for California's public schools, which have been struggling with exploding enrollments and recession-induced budget cuts for several years and which face a potentially crippling voucher initiative on the November ballot. Under that initiative, parents could receive vouchers from the funds earmarked for public schools and use the money to send their children to private or parochial campuses.
Dawson said he hoped voters would look upon the reduced dropout rate, along with other indicators of school improvement such as increased numbers of students completing college-entrance courses and higher test scores, as evidence that the public schools are turning themselves around.
"This doesn't mean everything is rosy, but it does show public school teachers and administrators are rising to the challenge . . . despite having the same level of funding for three years and despite having inflation chomp away at those dollars," Dawson said.
Locally, most districts showed strong progress in keeping youngsters in school, including the struggling 640,000-student Los Angeles Unified School District. While the nation's second-largest district has made some progress, its dropout rate of 36.9% keeps it well above the state average. Its rate also improved less significantly--13.6% over the seven-year period--than the decline statewide.
The average dropout rate for all school districts in Los Angeles County was 23.7%, a decline of 24.5% from 1986 to 1992.
One Southern California school system--the 11,000-student Azusa Unified School District--provides an example of how concerted efforts can pay off. Sixty-eight percent of the district's students are Latino and 20% of them are on welfare, both groups with historically high dropout rates. Yet Azusa whittled its dropout rate to 3.7% last year.
Kathleen Miller, administrative assistant to the district's superintendent, said the school board and district staff have made keeping students in school a top priority. The efforts begin in elementary school with incentives for attendance and programs to build youngsters' self-esteem, then continue with methods calculated to ensure students' success.
Ninth-graders are grouped in ways to enable a teacher to stay with them throughout their school day, enhancing the chance to know each student better. School counselors make home visits to the families of youngsters who start skipping classes, and a program for pregnant students and those with newborns helps remove the obstacles to a teen-age mother's staying in school. The district also has a GOAL program, for Greater Opportunities for Achievement through Learning, aimed at ninth-graders who are falling behind and in danger of dropping out. Grouped in classes of about 20, they get intensive tutoring and have a special computer lab to help them catch up academically.
The programs are paid for out of regular school district funds except for GOAL, which began with the help of computer giant IBM, Miller said.
"All of these programs are paying off--there is no doubt about it," Miller said.
In Orange County, 12% of high school students dropped out before last year's graduation, compared to 19.9% in 1986. The county's schools consistently have shown a better dropout picture than those statewide. Santa Ana Unified stood out for making a major improvement, boasting a 61.2% reduction in its dropout rate since 1986.
In the fast-growing school systems of San Bernardino and Riverside counties, strong gains also were registered. For the seven-year period, dropouts declined by 39.3% (to 16.4% for the Class of '92) in Riverside County schools and by 44.1% (to 17.4%) in San Bernardino County. Schools in San Diego and Imperial counties sliced their dropout rates by more than half--by 56.2% (to 10.9%) for San Diego and by 54.4% (to 9.8%) for Imperial.
Aware that significant numbers of youths drop out even before reaching high school, the state has begun asking schools to report dropout data for grades 7, 8 and 9; however, that data will not be made public until middle and junior high schools become more familiar with the fairly complicated reporting techniques, state officials said.
The proportion of students who drop out of high school before graduation continues to decline in California.
Most districts in Los Angeles County were able to reduce their dropout rates over a one-year period.
The dropout rate reflects the percentage of students who started the 10th grade but did not complete high school.
DISTRICT 1991 1992 * Statewide average 18.2 16.6 * Los Angeles County 26.1 23.7 * ABC 11.8 15.2 * Alhambra City 15.5 18.1 * Antelope Valley 23.4 11.1 * Arcadia 7.1 3.4 * Azusa 14.0 3.7 * Baldwin Park 24.4 11.7 * Bassett 25.5 28.3 * Bellflower 9.3 5.0 * Beverly Hills 3.8 4.3 * Bonita 6.8 7.5 * Burbank 7.9 7.9 * Centinela Valley 31.2 25.7 * Charter Oak 12.7 10.0 * Claremont 3.0 3.7 * Compton 37.3 6.7 * Covina-Valley 6.4 9.7 * Culver City 20.0 19.1 * Downey 17.0 14.5 * Duarte 21.7 10.8 * El Monte Union 16.8 9.4 * El Rancho 8.9 10.7 * El Segundo 24.0 7.8 * Glendale 1.6 2.4 * Glendora 7.4 2.9 * Hacienda La Puente 9.2 8.4 * Inglewood 26.2 18.5 * La Canada 3.4 1.8 * Las Virgenes 8.7 5.8 * Long Beach 31.6 29.4 * Los Angeles 38.1 36.9 * Lynwood 37.6 32.1 * Monrovia 18.2 16.4 * Montebello 8.9 10.5 * Norwalk-La Mirada 18.9 22.2 * P.V. Peninsula 2.8 1.8 * Paramount 25.8 22.1 * Pasadena 21.4 17.8 * Pomona 32.6 17.5 * Rowland 15.3 11.3 * San Marino 0.0 0.0 * Santa Mon.-Malibu 10.9 23.3 * South Bay Union 5.3 3.8 * South Pasadena 1.6 3.7 * Temple City 9.8 6.5 * Torrance 4.6 1.9 * Walnut Valley 4.3 1.7 * West Covina 20.8 15.8 * Whittier Union 22.8 11.8 * Wm. S. Hart Union 11.6 8.2
SOURCE: California Department of Education
Compiled by Times researcher Nona Yates