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Let's make the proper comparison

Local Commentary

Posted: August 2, 2008 9:21 p.m.
Updated: October 4, 2008 5:01 a.m.
 

Last month the California Department of Public Instruction released revised numbers revealing the dropout rate of public and charter schools within the state.

Now I assume everyone understands the problem with a high dropout rate. A substantial number of individuals without even a high school education cannot constitute a good thing for society for many reasons.

Some observations: I do not personally believe, like most, that public school institutions bear the primary responsibility to get kids to attend school or get them to the appropriate level of accomplishment.

I do believe the family and - if the family will not or cannot - the greater community bear primary responsibility to get kids to attend school. Students bear the primary responsibility to learn.

I do believe that public schools bear an incredible responsibility to provide accurate data concerning attendance and achievement so that one can evaluate and address the problems of the family, community, or students.

Shocking trend
Unfortunately, schools - particularly the monolithic LAUSD - sometimes succumbed to the temptation to understate dropout numbers, making certain favorable assumptions regarding students who stopped showing up to school or who failed to re-enroll in a new term.

They therefore committed twin sins of measurement: a potential understatement of the problem and an inability to make valid comparisons. Now, public schools must count students in the dropout ranks unless they know for sure they transferred to another high school within or without the district.

The headline stories revealed the LAUSD, using this all-inclusive methodology, endured a four-year dropout rate of more than 33.6 percent (not good). For the William S. Hart Union High School District, administrators "bragged" about a dropout rate for the district of 15.6 percent.

Many will point out, correctly, that four of the six comprehensive high schools in the district boast a miniscule four-year dropout rate of 6 percent or less, but a close examination of the numbers reveal that nearly all the dropouts come from Opportunties for Learning, the "last chance" charter school of the Hart district.

Nearly all students enrolled in Opportunities for Learning originally attended one of the comprehensive high schools, so our community problem of dropouts rolls up to what I consider a shockingly high number.

During more than 12 years of residency in the SCV, I have noticed a disturbing trend. The Hart district nearly always compares itself to statewide averages or to Los Angeles County averages, tilted heavily by the results of the behemoth and underperforming LAUSD.

Vicki Engbrecht crowed about the favorable comparison of the Hart district with the county rate (27.8 percent). I do not think this constitutes the correct aspirational goal.

Should the Hart district not compare itself with other suburban school districts with a similar demographic? In local reports to the public, they almost never do. So I will, utilizing the material gathered by the state Department of Public Instruction.

Let us move to the south. For the testing period in question, the Conejo Valley School District, which includes Thousand Oaks and other cities in the Highway 101 corridor, endured a 9.5 percent four-year dropout rate, nearly 40 percent less than the Hart district.

Simi Valley stood at 12.5 percent, still 20 percent lower than Hart. Moving westward to Ventura, that district stood even lower than the vaunted Thousand Oaks and Simi Valley districts, with an adjusted four-year dropout rate of only 7.5 percent.

Cheat spread
Southward beyond Los Angeles County, we look at Orange County. Capistrano Unified, which includes the south Orange County cities of Dana Point, San Juan Capistrano, and Laguna Niguel, only endured a 3.1 percent dropout rate. Irvine Unified stood even lower at 2.6 percent.

The real shocker: The Santa Ana Unified School District - centered around Santa Ana, the supposed bastion of illegal aliens in Orange County - boasted a dropout rate of only 9.1 percent! The Hart district's 15.6 percent rate seems like nothing to brag about.

A more disturbing development: The reports summarize the difference between the "old" method of reporting dropouts vs. the new, higher method. For example, the LAUSD reported a 790 basis point (one base point equals .01%) difference, or "spread," between the old counting method and the new counting method.

For convenience, I will define this spread with the term "cheat spread." No surprise with LAUSD and its 790 point disparity.

The cheat spread of the Hart District: 890 basis points!

Is the Hart District living up to its obligation to provide accurate information? Maybe random drug testing of school athletes will solve the problem.

Tim Myers is executive vice president and chief financial officer of Landscape Development Inc. in Valencia. His column represents his own views, not necessarily those of The Signal.

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