Article "Dropout rate for Calif. black students hits 37%"
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."
The following are the percentages of high school students from selected districts who dropped out before graduation in 2009.
Article "Smart vs. cool: Culture, race and ethnicity in Silicon Valley schools"
Melissa Lozano, 13, of Kipp Academy in San Jose, talked about being cool and smart... (Maria Avila) Sandra Romero and Bibiana Vega do their best to shrug off taunts from fellow Latino classmates at Del Mar High School in San Jose. The 17-year-old seniors are called "whitewashed." Mataditas - dorks. Cerebritas - brainiacs. They're told they're "losing their culture" - just because Sandra has a 4.0 grade-point average and Bibiana has a 3.5. The put-downs are clear: Smart is not cool. And too many Latino students are choosing cool over school.
But a few miles away at Hyde Middle School, in the heavily Asian Cupertino Union School District, Tiffany Nguyen detects the opposite attitude. If you're not smart, "you're really looked down on," said the Vietnamese-American eighth-grader. After years of tiptoeing around racial issues for fear of invoking stereotypes, California educators are now looking squarely at how ethnicity and culture shape achievement and attitudes toward school.
The Mercury News interviewed dozens of students from varying backgrounds to examine the "racial achievement gap" and a delicate question that underlies it: Why do so many kids - especially Latinos - believe "school is uncool." The challenge isn't limited to California. Using surveys of 90,000 secondary-school students, Harvard University researchers found that white students were more popular when they had higher grade-point averages. But black students' popularity sharply declined when their GPAs reached a B-plus. For Latinos, the price of good grades was even costlier: Popularity peaked at a C-plus, then plunged. The 2005 study, titled "An Empirical Analysis of 'Acting White,' " was based on a survey that asked students to name their friends. 'Embarrassed to be Mexican'
When Latinos are accused of "acting white," the language can be cruel. "Some of my friends have told me I'm being something I'm not - that I'm embarrassed to be Mexican," said Bibiana, the youngest of three children in a family that immigrated from Mexico eight years ago. Her success is all the more impressive because her father did not attend school and her mother went only as far as third grade. Throughout the state, education leaders are huddling on how to raise the achievement of Latinos, who now make up about half of California's K-12 students and are growing in proportion.
Without finding ways to help more students succeed, the state risks churning out an undereducated generation, with dire social and economic consequences. So educators are trying to reshape the culture of learning - at home, in the classroom and among peer groups. Motivation is one obstacle. Numerous students and teachers told the Mercury News they know kids - from all backgrounds - who are smart but choose to slack off. "They'd rather be around friends who make them feel stronger and more powerful," said Viviano Perez, 12, a Latino seventh-grader at Morrill Middle School in San Jose. And, he said, they pay more attention to the clothes they wear and hanging out than homework.
Think nerds vs. jocks, and it's hard to imagine smart equals popular. Indeed, many education experts argue that mainstream America worships pop culture and athletic prowess more than intellectual accomplishment. "At my school, the ratio of athletic to academic trophies is easily 100-to-1," said Boston-based educational consultant Douglas Reeves. The Harvard study didn't break out the attitudes of Asian-American students, but interviews with local students indicate that many Asians think classmates must be smart - but not act smart - to be popular. If you get good grades, "people look up to you," said junior Kim Nguyen, a Vietnamese-American who attends Piedmont Hills High School, an East San Jose campus where nearly half the students are Asian.
The stark difference in attitude corresponds with a striking difference in standardized test scores in California: Black and Latino students generally score much lower than Asians and whites. And it's not just a matter of poverty. On state achievement tests, poor whites and Asians score higher than or about the same as black and Latino students who are not economically disadvantaged. Educators stress that race and culture are only two parts of a complex matrix that influence student performance. Poverty, English-language fluency, parental education and school inequality are also factors. But unlike ugly past controversies over race and academic achievement, this latest debate doesn't focus on whether there are racial differences in IQ.
The issue now is how cultural values influence learning, educators say.
Article "College dropout rates reflect big challenges for blacks, Latinos"
San Jose State University senior Joel Bridgeman, 24, in his home in San Jose,... ( Nhat V. Meyer ) Their acceptance into San Jose State University turned Joel Bridgeman and Anwar Estelle into instant neighborhood heroes. Few from the bleak Richmond streets make it to college, with its promise of a career. It meant never having to sweep the parking lot of Burger King again. But the reality of college hit hard. Upon arrival, they needed remedial courses. Financial aid fell through. Their families couldn't help. And hardly anyone on campus looked like them.
"It's demoralizing when you get here and you're starting off behind," Bridgeman said. "You think: Maybe I'm not as smart as I thought." Much of the debate over the achievement gap has focused on helping African-American and Latino students graduate from high school and get into college. But the sobering reality is that the gap persists even there. Bridgeman and Estelle prevailed and will celebrate at Saturday's graduation. But many others won't be there. While making substantial increases in college enrollment, African-Americans and Latinos drop out at higher rates, according to the Washington D.C.-based non-profit the Education Trust. Nationally, the graduation rate is 53 percent; in contrast, the graduation rate of what schools call "underrepresented minorities" - blacks, Latinos and American Indians - is 45 percent. The gap has narrowed slightly in recent years - in 2002, only 42 percent of such students graduated.
College dropouts can get shut out of most professional careers in today's increasingly globalized, computerized economy. The dropout rate also worries economists, because of the state's increasing demand for a skilled workforce. The reasons behind this college gap are as complex as America itself. A university is designed to be a meritocracy, admitting the best and brightest. In fact, it reinforces many of the advantages of birth - with success based on strong preparation, financial support and educated parents who hold high standards and expect disciplined effort. "People inherit disadvantage," said Tom Mortenson, a senior scholar at the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education in Washington, D.C. "Low-income kids are concentrated in low-income high schools, and in families that know little about being successful in college. It takes more than love to raise a child."
Vanessa Cuevas, 22, was smart enough to get admitted to the University of California-Berkeley, but from the first day of chemistry class, she felt overwhelmed. The daughter of former migrant workers in rural Sutter County, she was a top student at her high school. But at Berkeley, she found herself competing against students who had taken an array of advanced placement classes. For Bridgeman and Estelle, both 24, their poor preparation made them question whether they belonged. "You come out of high school thinking you're one of the smart kids and a good student - and then you realize that your high school sucked," Bridgeman said. "You're wondering: Can I really make it through college?" Feelings of isolation
In interviews, many Latino and African-American students said they felt isolated on campus, excluded from study groups. Even advisers can hurt, they said, trying to pigeonhole them in majors like Spanish or African-American studies. Adding to the stress, most must also work. Estelle, a business administration major, woke at 5:40 a.m. for his on-campus administrative job, ate lunch, then worked at a Verizon cell phone store until 10 p.m. He once fell asleep during a statistics exam. Not everyone makes it, he noted, because it requires a strong work ethic. "Some people are lazy," he said. "If your story ain't that bad, you got no excuse."
Still it was a far cry from the carefree college life that they envisioned - and that many of their classmates enjoyed. Early one morning this April, Cuevas grew wistful while walking past Berkeley's Fraternity Row. "We were so tired and sleepy, and we saw girls in bikinis, having barbecues. People having fun. I really don't have a social life," said Cuevas, a social welfare major. Studies have found that there's not enough financial aid for low-income students. When it's available, many students find the deadlines and paperwork too daunting. Part-time work - needed to pay rent and food - disqualifies some from tuition grants. Others are scared to take on large loans. Limited support Their families can't offer much help. "If you get to school and realize that you've got more education than both parents, who are you supposed to ask for advice?" Bridgeman said. "Maybe you get cut off from financial aid - and your mom says, 'Well, try your best.' " Many are far from their families, often for the first time, and homesickness hits hard. "My mother's birthday was in March and I couldn't go home," Cuevas said. "I was crying, it felt so bad. But the more you go home, the more your grades go down."
After a while, quitting seemed like the most logical thing to do. But support programs, a network of caring adults and some well-chosen friends can keep them in school. "What we've learned is that it is crucial, especially during the first year, to connect on campus. It makes you feel part of a larger community," said Jeff Towey, a mentor at the Making Waves Education Program in Richmond. Things improved for Cuevas when she joined the Multicultural Resource Center and moved into a multiethnic house of students. "It saved my life," said Cuevas, who earned straight A's last semester and has been accepted into the prestigious University of Michigan graduate school program. "I see people who look like me and I feel comfortable."
The power of two For Bridgeman and Estelle, once classes were over, "We'd sit around and smoke cigars - same spot, every day - and talk about college stuff." If Estelle hadn't read a book for class, Bridgeman summarized it for him. When Bridgeman's financial aid fell through, he slept on Estelle's sofa and cut hair in dormitories for $7 a person - and kept going to class. They both came close to dropping out. Sophomore year, Estelle walked into San Jose State's administrative offices to get permission and was rebuffed. "I guess she thought if I was stupid enough to ask, she'd just say, 'No,' " he recalled, laughing. Bridgeman thought about it, too. But he reconsidered when his mentor, African-American studies Professor Stephen Millner, asked: "If you don't make it, what message does it give to all the other kids in your neighborhood?"
Membership in the black fraternity Iota Phi Theta during their junior year provided role models - and fun. Frat brothers bonded during percussive dance "step shows," traveling to other schools for competitions. But on the way home, they studied. The startling 90 percent graduation rate of the small fraternity is triple the 30 percent rate of the school's overall African-American population. Without the fraternity, Estelle said, "I definitely wouldn't have stayed. I'd be long gone." From there, doors opened to new opportunities. Bridgeman, a political science major, landed an internship at the U.S. House of Representatives.
Together, Estelle and Bridgeman sponsored a fraternity-based "shadow day" for 25 black high school boys to accompany them on campus. And last fall, the friends gathered new freshmen in a room, fed them pizza and offered advice. "We say: 'Don't be a statistic,' " Bridgeman said. "If we did it, they can."