Friday, July 18, 2008


By Rick Orlov & George B. Sanchez | Daily Breeze

7/18/08 - Sharply disputing a state report, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on Thursday said he believes the dropout rate at Los Angeles schools is even worse than the dismal 33 percent estimated by state officials.

Villaraigosa, who previously used the dropout rate issue as leverage to take control of a handful of schools, said the new state figures released Wednesday did not take into account all relevant factors.

For example, he said, the state report did not count students who dropped out before ninth grade.

"I'm heartened they are highlighting the dropout issue but I know it is higher than they are saying," Villaraigosa said. "We know it's 50 to 60 percent and in some parts of the city 65 or 70 percent."

State Superintendent Jack O'Connell on Wednesday released a report showing the dropout rate at districts throughout the state, trying to quell years of debate over the issue.

O'Connell said Los Angeles Unified has a dropout rate of 33.6 percent, above the state average of 24.6 percent.

The new report, which tracked students using a unique identification number, was heralded by education experts and local school officials as a new benchmark to measure dropout rates and end the debate over the accuracy of figures cited in the past.

Deputy State Superintendent Rick Miller on Thursday stood by the results of the state's work.

"This is not a study," Miller said. "Everything before this was a study. We looked at individual students by their ID number and reported on whether they were enrolled or not. If the mayor would look at our documentation, he would see what we did."

LAUSD Senior Deputy Superintendent Ray Cortines did not dispute the state's report, even after hearing Villaraigosa's statement.

Cortines said he shared the report with the mayor's staff Wednesday morning, hours before the report was publicly released, and heard no questions or concerns about the findings.

The mayor issued a written statement on Wednesday afternoon that did not dispute the report's findings.

But Villaraigosa said he is now convinced the figures are higher than the state determined.

As evidence, Villaraigosa's staff cited reports by Education Week and Harvard University as well as his own experience in taking over 10 LAUSD schools.

A 2006 study by Education Week estimated that only 44 percent of LAUSD students received a high school diploma.

A joint study by UCLA and Harvard University released in 2005 stated only 48 percent of black and Latino students in LAUSD who start ninth grade complete grade 12 four years later.

Cortines said the state's new tracking system is the first to generate agreement by local and state education officials as well as nonprofit groups and education experts.

He acknowledged there are schools with dropout rates as high as those cited by the mayor.

"In his schools, it is closer to 50 percent," Cortines said.

At Roosevelt Senior High School in Boyle Heights, the adjusted dropout rate is 49.6 percent, according to the state, and at Santee Education Complex near downtown, the figure is 44.3 percent.

"The issue should not be what the percentage is, but what we are going to do about it," Cortines said. "It'll take the city and school district working together, combining social services, law enforcement, gang reduction and everyone to deal with the problem."

Villaraigosa said dropout rates are one of the factors he will look at with his partnership schools.

"We are going to track the dropout rates and focus on what it takes to keep kids in school. Our goal is to graduate every student and see them go on to college."

Villaraigosa took over control of the 10 schools on July 1. They are among the worst performing schools in the LAUSD.


Hammering Hamlet: "Me thinks thou dost protest too much."  The mayor has a vested and special  interest in keeping this years dropout numbers high - he has inherited ten low performing schools and the statistical baseline from which they must improve has been raised. He really has nothing to complain about - the truth and the challenge remain - there is plenty of room for improvement. - smf

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