Aggressive dropout action still necessary

The dropout rate in California's public schools is improving, but there still are far too many young people leaving school before they get high school diplomas.

California must adopt an aggressive program to keep students in school, and taxpayers must be willing to pay for this investment in our quality of life.

The high number of dropouts costs us in many ways -- from having young people relegated to lives that fall well below their potential to the added taxpayer burden when many of them go on public assistance and get involved in the criminal justice system.

It doesn't mean that every high school dropout won't succeed, but dropouts limit their opportunities by not finishing school.

Compared with graduates, dropouts have higher rates of unemployment, lower earnings, poorer health, higher death rates, higher rates of criminal behavior and incarceration, and greater dependence on public assistance, according to a study from the University of California at Santa Barbara.

So we all have a stake in getting more students to graduate from high school. An investment in early intervention will pay us back many times in more productive citizens.

The state just released the latest dropout numbers, and the overall dropout rate for California high school students improved slightly. In 2007-08,

20.1 percent dropped out; the previous year's rate was 21.1 percent.

In Stanislaus County, the dropout rate improved to 22.7 percent last school year, compared with 23.6 percent in 2006-07. Modesto's six high schools had dropout rates that ranged from a low of 8.1 percent at Beyer to a high of 19.3 percent at Downey; Elliott Alternative, which serves at-risk students, was at 99.3 percent.

Craig Rydquist, a Modesto City Schools associate superintendent, said lowering the dropout rate is a high priority and that "improving relevancy in regular classrooms and alternative education programs in place is the key."

In Sacramento, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell said progress is being made but the "dropout rate in California is still unacceptably high."

O'Connell said the state is assisting school districts in attacking the dropout problem. "We cannot afford to wait until a dropout becomes a statistic," he said.

O'Connell also said the latest dropout statistics show "alarmingly high dropout rates among African-American and Hispanic students" and more must be done to keep those groups of students in school.

We must do more to keep all children in school. The latest dropout report shows that our public schools still haven't figured out how to educate all children.