School dropout rates show promising numbers
by Dave Schwab
Published - 07/03/12 - 03:02 PM | 2486 views | 0 0 comments | 2 2 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The news on high school dropout rates for 2011-12 in La Jolla and throughout San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) almost couldn’t be better as three charter schools — High Tech High, High Tech High Media Arts and Preuss at UCSD — all achieved a zero-percent dropout rate.

A recently released California Department of Education report showed San Diego County students and those statewide are increasingly earning diplomas within four years — and fewer of them are dropping out.

SDUSD, at 5.9 percent — down from 8.4 percent a year earlier — had the lowest dropout rate among the state’s large, urban school districts. The next lowest district, San Francisco Unified, was at 10.4 percent. The highest rate, 27 percent, was Oakland Unified.

Overall, SDUSD’s 83.7 percent graduation rate exceeded the state average by 8.5 points.

San Diego County’s graduation rate came in at 77.5 percent, based on the 40,451 students who began as freshmen in 2007. That was up from 75.2 percent in the prior year and better than the statewide rate of 76.3 percent.

“For parents, this means that they can be confident that their child is receiving, in our district, as good an education as they can get anywhere in California,” said John Lee Evans, San Diego School Board of Education president. “Our schools are innovative. Our schools are creative. Our schools are accountable. And our schools fit into their communities.”

The state’s graduation target is 90 percent, a difficult goal to attain, educators admit, given persistent state funding cuts.

SDUSD, the state’s second-largest school district, fell short of that 90-percent mark. But its graduation rate improved from 80.9 percent to 83.7 percent — difficult, given the demographics of big-city school districts containing large populations of low-income students and students whose first language is not English.

SDUSD officials credit, in part, aggressive efforts — knocking on doors, calling relatives — to track down truant students for improving graduation rates.

The district also claims its use of high-tech teaching aids, like Netbooks, iPads and computerized smart boards, are paying dividends in engaging students, persuading more of them to stay in school. The district is also heavily invested in programs promoting culinary arts, construction and auto technology, serving job skill-oriented students.

The latest dropout-graduation figures for Preuss at UCSD, High Tech High and High Tech High Media Arts were encouraging, validating the core curriculums and educational philosophies of the three charter schools.

The Preuss School, jointly chartered by the SDUSD and UC San Diego, opened in 1999 in portable buildings on UCSD’s Thurgood Marshall campus with 150 students in grades 6–8. Begun by a group of UCSD faculty, the school serves low-income and under-represented groups, many from backgrounds with no history of higher education. Classes began on the current state-of-the-art Preuss facility on UCSD’s East Campus off Genesee Avenue after its completion in 2000.

High Tech High (HTH) operates 11 schools — two elementary, four middle and five high schools — countywide. Begun in 2000 as a single charter high school launched by a coalition of San Diego business leaders and educators, HTH has evolved into an integrated network of schools spanning grades K-12, housing a comprehensive teacher certification program and a new, innovative Graduate School of Education.
High Tech High Media Arts serves about 400 students in grades 9-12 at HTH Village in Point Loma. Founded in fall 2005, the school implements all HTH design principles and features a strong foundation in liberal arts and sciences.

San Diego Unified also showed gains in ethnic groups that have been a focus of attendance-improvement efforts. For Hispanic students, a nearly 4-percent increase was registered over 2009-10. The 75.8 percent topped the statewide average of 70.4.

For African-American students, the year-over-year increase is 4.4 percent, with the 80.3 graduation rate 17.4 percent higher than the statewide average.

“This means that hundreds of young adults beat the odds and became high school graduates last year,” said superintendent Bill Kowba. “This district, our Board of Education and every staff member have made graduation a top priority.”

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