In response to the rising high dropout rate plaguing many California high schools, the California Dropout Research Project, founded at UCSB’s Gevirtz Graduate School in December 2006, will investigate the “dropout crisis” in California. The group’s mission is to compile past and recent research, analyze the dropout rate and propose possible solutions in conjunction with policymakers and the general public.
Set to conclude in January 2008, the project will issue reports and policy briefs by June, in order to address what it calls the demographic realities of the state and determine the effectiveness of intervention programs.
According to the CDRP web page, in 2002, 15 percent of students dropped out of high school across the nation, while nearly 20 percent of California students failed to acquire their diplomas.
CDRP Policy Committee member and Sacramento County Superintendent of Schools David W. Gordon said one of the fundamental problems in evaluating the dropout problem is the lack of conclusive data and inconsistency of the results.
“I think one of the biggest problems is that we don’t have a system for tracking students,” Gordon said. “We really don’t know the graduation rate. All we have is estimates. They’ve been working on it for years and years and years.”
Professor Russell W. Rumberger, a prominent high school dropout researcher and CDRP director, said educators are interested in early indicators signaling potential dropouts. He said middle schools and junior high schools usually fail to report poor academic performance of students to high schools and colleges.
“One of the best predictors [of dropouts] is if they’re failing in middle school,” Rumberger said. “We could do a better job preventing dropouts by looking at kids early on and seeing if we can do something about it before they get to high school.”
Gordon said that students require more guidance through their educational years.
“Good programs are ones that provide support,” he said. “It could be a teacher or it could be a counselor. Kids need connections with caring adults.”
One program, UCSB’s Upward Bound, aims to encourage middle school and high school students in Santa Barbara County to attend college. It also provides services to UCSB students coming from disadvantaged families. On May 15, Congresswoman Lois Capps promised $400,000 in federal aid to support the program, which is currently stationed in a small trailer near South Hall.
In spite of these attempts to alleviate the situation, some professors have resorted to creating their own intervention programs to resolve the dropout crisis, which many feel has a direct effect on campus diversity. In response to the lack of minorities on campus, College of Creative Studies professor Caroline Allen launched a program to get local kids involved in summer art classes on campus.
Allen said the CCS Summer Arts Institute offers writing, painting and photography classes to local students who may be the first in their family to attend college.
In addition, Allen said the No Child Left Behind Act has had a detrimental effect on high school arts programs, as teachers are given less discretion as to the curriculum they choose to teach, and some instructors elect to only teach the material presented on standardized tests, which affects the amount of funding each school receives.
“They have the five-paragraph essay shoved down their throats,” Allen said. “[Here, they] learn to have fun with their writing and be more expressive.”
Alli Miarkiani, a former student of the summer institute, said the freedom of the CCS course pushed him to improve his own writing. He said instructors used unique methods to motivate students.
“They said, ‘here is a famous piece of writing, see if you can use this as an inspiration for your own writing,'” Miarkiani said. “My writing improved dramatically. It was amazing.”
Allen said she hopes this program will encourage her mostly Latino students to consider college, especially UCSB.
Rumberger said courses such as Allen’s a step in the right direction in trying to attract more minority students to UCSB. According to the CDRP website, Latinos are twice as likely as whites to drop out of school. Rumberger said schools must begin to cater toward the needs of Latino students.
“Developing English language proficiency is critical to their success,” he said. “I don’t think there is a single best model, but clearly we need to do a better job at educating our Latino students.”
Allen said universities and high schools need to inspire students to continue their education.
“Bringing students on campus is an important step,” Allen said. “They need to know that good things happen here and they can be a part of it.”
However, some instructors say other factors may explain why minorities do not come to UCSB. According to Black studies professor Dr. Gaye Theresa Johnson, UCSB is not considered a friendly environment for black students. Johnson also said that although more minorities are being accepted into UCSB, fewer students are enrolling, in part due to recent fee hikes.
“The reason that they’re not coming is because fees are going up,” Johnson said. “[It’s] not just fee increases, but cutbacks in financial aid and increases in loans, but not in grants… Fee increases are an example of higher education becoming more elitist.”
Just last week, Arnold Schwarzenegger confirmed a 7-10 percent increase in fees for the UC campuses as part of his 2007-08 California State Budget revisions.
Johnson said the rise in previous black student acceptance rates is misleading.
“Even though more black students are eligible for college, black economic disparity compared to white privilege makes black communities more embattled,” Johnson said. “It looks like [black students] have more access, but disparity in wealth is greater than it has ever been.”
In addition to pinpointing the real dropout rate, CDRP aims to examine the economic and social costs that high school students who fail to obtain a diploma impose upon society. The new studies being produced will highlight common characteristics of potential dropouts and predict high school graduation statistics.
Currently, the effects of dropping out have been shown to affect earnings, crime rates and even life expectancy, according to one study. In Fall 2005, Teachers College, Columbia University found the following: A high school dropouts earn about $260,000 less over their lifetime than their counterparts who earn diplomas. High school dropouts also live 9.2 years less on average than people who graduated high school. In addition, increasing the high school completion rate by 1 percent for all men ages 20-60 would save the U.S. up to $1.4 billion per year in reduced costs from crime.
According to the California Dropout Research Project website, dropouts are incredibly costly to California, and are more likely to seek welfare support, commit crimes and become incarcerated. In fact, more than 80 percent of California’s prisoners, in 2005, did not graduate from high school, costing California taxpayers $35,000 for each inmate per year. The CDRP also asserts that dropouts suffer from poor health and are more likely to require public health support.
The Public Policy Institute of California deemed that with the ongoing trends, twice as many high school students may drop out by the year 2025.
Outreach and Preparation Programs
In regards to programs that attempt to ensure graduation and further education, Gordon ok said Advancement Via Individual Determination, an in-school academic support program for grades 4-12 that prepares students for college, is extremely effective.
“[A.V.I.D. is] a teaching plus a counseling program,” Gordon said. “Their success rate is phenomenal. The figure is 84 percent who get admitted into college and 100 percent who graduate the High School Exit Exam.”
While Gordon said college outreach programs are often misdirected. He said the programs advertised the benefits of a college education instead of assisting parents and student throughout the application process.
“I think the outreach stuff is misplaced,” he said. “We do not need to convince [students] that it’s important go to college. Until you help families navigate the bureaucracy, they don’t have a chance. Filling out forms is completely foreign to them. The families had no more idea about how to get a college application or financial aid than to be an astronaut.”
UCSB’s own Student Initiated Outreach Program, which prepares K-12 students to succeed in college, strives to increase underrepresented student populations on college campuses by encouraging a “college-going atmosphere.” Among other programs, their services include group visits to UCSB.
Third-year Asian American studies major and current SIOP chair Tuyen Nguyen said the committee gives funding to student groups who work with high schools to encourage student success.
“[The student groups] describe a project proposal and the student organization,” Nguyen said. “They bring hundreds and hundreds of students on a outreach day to give the students an idea that education in college is attainable.”
Over 15 student organizations are represented on campus including Hermanos Unidos, Black Student Union and El Congreso. They bring students on campus to attend cultural and historical workshops as well as to classes that discuss the required curriculum they will need to complete in order to secure admission.
However, some high schools don’t even offer the classes UC schools require.
Sheilagh Polk, media relations manager for Community Coalition, a nonprofit organization that works to help south L.A. residents, said the Fighting for the Future program is working to ensure local schools provide the necessary classes.
“A number of students weren’t eligible to attend a Cal State or a UC university because they were missing a math or science requirement,” Polk said. “It wasn’t because students didn’t want to take these classes, but they weren’t offered.”
One such school is L.A.’s John C. Fremont Senior High. In addition to missing requirements, Polk said its students score significantly lower on their S.A.T.s.
At Fremont, between 2004 and 2005, the average score was 352 for Verbal and 368 for Math, totaling 720 out of a possible 1600. That puts its participants in the bottom 10 percent of all test takers.
The newest version of the S.A.T., implemented in 2006, now includes a writing portion on the exam worth 800 points, which brings the perfect score total to 2400 as opposed to the previous 1600.
According to Collegeboard.com, the 2006 mean S.A.T. scores for college-bound seniors were 503 for Critical Reading, 518 for Math and 497 for Writing totaling 1518 out of a possible 2400.
The averages for UCSB’s incoming class of 2007 are 616 for Critical Reading, 636 for Math, and 614 for Writing, totaling 1866.
Being eligible to attend college is one issue; being eligible to graduate from high school is another. 2007 marks the second year that the state will require students to obtain a passing grade on the California High School Exit Exam in order to graduate.
Polk said students should graduate from high school if they pass their classes.
“I am against the CAHSEE exam because I feel it is unfair to punish them for 12 years of inadequate education,” Polk said. “They can’t pass a test they weren’t prepared for.”
However, Gordon said most of the students who do not pass also lack the required credits, and would not have graduated anyway. He said in Sacramento, only 3 to 4 percent of students were denied a diploma solely because they did not pass the CAHSEE.
Rumberger said that while the intentions behind the CAHSEE are good, poor implementation hinders the program’s success. Instead, he suggested the state offer differentiated diplomas – degrees based on varying high school and testing performance, so that all students who take required classes and pass would receive a degree. He said schools could then identify exceptional students by issuing higher-ranking diplomas.
“I think the idea [of the CAHSEE] is good but the way it is being done is not so good,” Rumberger said. “The idea of assessing how much kids know by two subjects, math and English [is flawed]. If a kid scores one point less than another kid, should they not get a diploma? It seems so arbitrary.”