EDUCATORS TARGET STATE DROPOUT CRISIS.
Hundreds of educators and advocates vowed Thursday to make California's high school dropout crisis a top priority, especially in urban districts like Los Angeles Unified.
Steep reforms are needed to help today's teenagers, and many of those efforts should be targeted at the state's 150 or so ``dropout factories,'' where 60 percent or less of freshmen receive diplomas within four years, according to participants in Harvard University's Civil Rights Project conference.
Educators said they need to maintain the momentum generated from this week's Harvard report, which showed that the state's formula for counting dropouts severely underestimates the problem. In Los Angeles Unified, for example, only 39 percent of Latino students and 47 percent of African-American students graduate within four years.
``I think today we've all shaken up the city,'' said professor Jeannie Oakes, director of UCLA's Institute for Democracy, Education & Access. ``We've made a little noise here. We created a little earthquake.''
Researchers and advocates who attended the all-day conference, called ``Dropouts in California: Confronting the Graduation Rate Crisis,'' said federal law should be tightened to limit the graduation rate formulas states are allowed to use to comply with No Child Left Behind.
Steps also are needed to make sure high-stakes tests, such as California's new high school exit exam, aren't used to push low-performing students out of public schools.
Intervention programs targeted at potential dropouts also need to be added. The programs must be comprehensive, beginning with preschool and expanding by the fourth grade, when at-risk students begin to become disengaged with school, experts said.
They encouraged conference participants to keep the pressure on politicians and school administrators to make the needed changes.
``This is not rocket science, This is something we can do,'' Oakes said. ``It will take enormous will. It will take enormous energy.''
According to the formula recommended in the Harvard report, both Van Nuys and Canoga Park high schools would be dubbed ``dropout factories'' because they only graduate 37 and 36 percent, respectively, of their non-Asian minority ninth-graders within four years. Less than 10 percent of Latino, African-American and Native American students at both schools graduate with the classes required to be eligible for admission into the University of California system.
Fremont High is also a ``dropout factory'' - only 32 percent of minority freshman class graduates within four years.
Reginald Dewayne Quarker Jr., a senior at the Los Angeles school, said he's not surprised.
``It's poor teachers, a lack of resources,'' he said. ``It's awful. At Fremont, students do what they want to and pass. It's a horrible situation. ... We need to reform our schools to fit our students of today.''
Rowena Lagrosa, the local LAUSD superintendent for east and central Los Angeles, said she thinks the district is already on the right track. LAUSD is working to relieve overcrowding and improve curriculum at all of its schools, she said.
``Right now, I am inspired,'' she said. ``We are pushing our system in LAUSD.''
Jennifer Radcliffe, (818) 713-3722