Original URL: http://www.oaklandtribune.com/Stories/0,1413,82~1865~1483380,00.html
40% of freshmen quit, figures show
25 percent graduated; district lost track of others
Saturday, June 28, 2003
By Alex Katz, STAFF WRITER
OAKLAND -- If Oakland high schools had chairs at graduation for every
freshman who didn't make it, there would be three times as many empty chairs as
Thousands of Oakland high school students and parents celebrated graduation this
month. But 75 percent of the ninth-graders on the books in 1998 had nothing to
celebrate on graduation day four years later, according to new school district
records released to The
For the first time ever, the district tracked every student in one class of
freshmen over the course of four years, and the results show only a quarter
graduated from city schools.
The rest dropped out or fell off the district's radar.
The statistics give the most detailed picture to date of where students go when
they leave Oakland's public schools, which has always been unclear under the
state's notoriously flawed system for counting dropout and graduation rates.
By following one class of freshmen, the district found many students left and
officially enrolled elsewhere. Some opted for adult school. Others took a state
exam to graduate early, and a small number were incarcerated and never returned
to an Oakland classroom.
But the largest number -- close to 40 percent -- dropped out or just disappeared
from the rolls.
The numbers show Oakland's graduation rate is lower than state data indicates.
And its real dropout rate is slightly higher than the one calculated by the
"I think (the new data) demonstrates graphically that Oakland Unified continues
to fail too many of its children," school board President Greg Hodge said.
"Most advocates and parents won't be surprised, because we've been saying it for
Students who drop out often blame the schools.
"Why sit in class and try to learn when (teachers) are not trying to teach?"
said Fremont High student Elder Guevara, 17. "If I stay here I feel like I'm
never going to change, I'll keep getting in trouble."
"Not everybody was born school material," said Danilo Barillas, 17, another
Fremont High student. "Some people get their jollies out of going to school,
Barillas dropped out, but said his parents made him return to school. He said he
plans to stay, after passing all his classes on his last report card.
Guevara, who immigrated from Guatemala, has dropped out of Fremont more than
once. But he now plans to earn a diploma while working in a special job program.
According to the Pew Hispanic Center in Washington, D.C., Latinos born outside
the United States are more than twice as likely to drop out of high school as
Latinos born here.
"I realized (dropping out) was going to mess me up," he said. "It's hard enough
without a high school diploma."
Not prepared for college
Even for students who get diplomas in Oakland, graduation isn't always a total
The district's new records show Oakland almost totally failed to graduate
students with the credits they need to get into state universities or University
of California schools.
Only 7 percent of the freshmen who started school in 1998 graduated four years
later with the classes they need on their transcripts to get into state or UC
For African-American students, that percentage shrinks to less than 3 percent.
Black male students
That means fewer than three out of every 100 black freshmen graduated on time
from city schools with enough credits to get into college. The numbers are even
lower for black male students.
"That is a very disturbing statistic," said Richard Black, UC Berkeley's vice
chancellor of admissions and enrollment.
"I do believe the high schools offer the courses ... but if you get off track at
the beginning, you might not be able to make it on time."
School board President Hodge blamed the low African-American graduation rate on
"institutional racism and societal pressures and circumstances, primarily
"It's not surprising, because this is the history of public institutions, not
only in this community but in the nation at large," Hodge said.
Oakland apparently has the lowest graduation rate in the state for
African-American students, especially when it comes to the number of students
who graduate with college requirements, according to California Department of
Better than Oakland
San Francisco, Los Angeles, Richmond, Berkeley, Compton, Long Beach, Fresno,
Santa Ana and even San Bernardino have better rates than Oakland.
By law, schools must offer what are known as the "A to G" courses, which include
three years of math, four years of English, two years of foreign language and
one year of art.
But whether students can realistically take all the required classes is a
It's much easier for students to take those classes at Skyline High, which
offers many sections of the courses, than it is for students at McClymonds High
or Castlemont High.
For example, Castlemont students who fail certain classes have to retake them at
a community college, because there is no room for students to retake the classes
at the high school, officials said.
Also, it's not always practical for students who are years behind in English to
take two years of another language.
UC Berkeley doesn't make exceptions for applicants who don't have A to G
requirements on their transcripts, Black said.
Less than 30 percent of all Oakland students who received diplomas last year had
all A to G classes on their transcripts. In Piedmont, that percentage is closer
to 80 percent.
Keeping students in school has become a main focus for the district as it
struggles with budget deficits, because more students in class means more
revenue from the state.
"A lot of these kids come from families where education has not paid off for
their parents," said Bruce Fuller, a University of California, Berkeley
education professor. "When (parents) were young, they saw schools as places of
failure and disrespect."
Students go to school when they have adults at home or at school who are
actively involved in their educations, said Kim Shipp, a parent and volunteer in
"In Piedmont, or if you go out to Pleasant Valley, parents understand this,"
Shipp said. "The difference is ... urban parents think the schools are going to
do it for them and their children, and it just doesn't work like that."
In his first days on the job, new state-appointed Oakland schools chief Randolph
Ward ordered schools to begin calling parents of absent students. Although that
will mean a lot of extra work, Ward said it is "non-negotiable."
Experts say breaking up large high schools into smaller, autonomous academies
allows teachers to give closer attention to students. The small-school model has
already had some success in reducing Castlemont High's ninth-grade dropout rate,
"I think high schools are pretty depersonalizing places for a lot of kids,"
Fuller said. "In some ways, this century-old model of a high school has outworn
Distractions from school
Doyle Beverly, 18, should have had a seat at Castlemont High's graduation June
Instead, Beverly contributed to Castlemont's dropout rate, the highest of the
city's six large high schools.
For a while, Beverly was making progress at Castlemont. He had a 'C' average, he
was passing classes and was enrolled in a successful after-school mentoring
Andre Mouton, head of the mentoring program, said he knows why Beverly dropped
"He got that car, that's what did it," Mouton said, referring to a severely
beat-up, light-blue sedan parked outside Beverly's home on 89th Avenue.
Beverly was in and out of school even before he got the car. But once he had it,
he started driving across town to see a girlfriend at another school instead of
going to class, and fell behind.
Like many dropouts, Beverly said teachers didn't give him the help he needed to
"They give you a sheet to do and you don't know nothing about it," he said. "You
just sit there and wait to cut."
In many ways, Beverly is not a typical dropout. His parents have diplomas, and
encouraged him to stay in school. He wants to go to adult school and become a
Dropouts don't usually think too far into the future, Beverly said.
"I know the consequences (of dropping out)," he said. "But kids these days, they
feel they can grind (sell dope) all their lives. They want to ride around in
cars, smoke, drink. They want to grow up quick."
Drug sales and use is one cause of Castlemont's dropout rate, students say.
"Right outside the school, there's the (drug) turf," said William Stevenson, 20,
who dropped out of Castlemont for reasons unrelated to drugs. "That makes a
Several students who graduated from Castlemont this month say they would not
have made it without the support of Mouton's mentoring program.
Mouton grew up in a foster home in West Oakland, and was kicked out of five high
schools. He says his background allows him to relate to students in danger of
falling through the cracks.
The program has lost its funding, and Mouton is trying to raise money to keep it
"As a school, we have to provide something (students) are not getting at home,
which is stability," he said. "We don't have stability in the Oakland Unified
The school tries to provide that stability by identifying chronic truants,
calling in their parents and referring them to case managers or other programs,
said Assistant Principal Matin abdel-Qawi .
Still, "Some don't respond well to it, (and) it would take a lot more than what
we offer to keep those students on track," he said.
Oakland's data still isn't 100 percent reliable.
Some students who fell off the record books may have enrolled in another city or
even another country. If Oakland doesn't receive a request for transcripts from
a student's new school, the student is marked as a dropout.
There is no way to know whether students who officially transfer drop out of
their new schools. And the records do not show whether students who went to
adult school or juvenile hall earned diplomas there.
The state has spent millions of dollars developing a database that would track
every student by assigning them an identification number, but so far progress
has been slow.
"Unless every student is wire-tagged, there's no way to know where they're
going," said Robin Lemoine, an analyst in the state's Educational Demographics
Because of that, experts say the official statewide 4-year dropout rate of 11
percent is meaningless.
"The public education establishment definitely doesn't want people to know how
many kids they are losing," said Alan Bonsteel, with the pro-voucher group
California Parents for Educational Choice.
State's biggest crisis
"If you ask what is the biggest crisis facing California, (the dropout rate) is
an absolute crisis for the next 50 years," said Bonsteel, who dropped out from a
Cupertino high school and later became a medical doctor.
"It has everything to do with how much you earn, whether you go to prison,
whether you go on welfare ... it has everything to do with everything."
Part of the problem in Oakland, officials say, is algebra. About 70 percent of
Oakland students fail the subject.
With such a high failure rate, the class becomes another discouragement for
students who are already years behind in mathematics.
According to the latest state test results, more than 70 percent of Oakland's
high school sophomores are below grade level in math.
"If you walk up to five 11th graders and ask them what's six times eight, I'll
bet you a hundred bucks three of them won't know," Fremont High teacher Eric
"I'll bet you a thousand dollars right now."
DuBois, who works in Fremont's truancy center, said students who fall behind
often give up on school.
"They feel stupid, because they haven't been taught," DuBois said.
"Somewhere along the chain from kindergarten to high school, they were neglected
massively. It's an American tragedy."