Fewer than half the freshmen who enter Oakland public high schools—just 48 of every 100—stick around long enough to graduate.
That’s the devastating news from a recent California study by the Harvard University Civil Rights Project and the Urban Institute Education Policy Center in Washington, DC. , whose researchers described high schools with graduation rates lower than 60 percent as “dropout factories.”
In Oakland, 68 percent of the 50,400 public school students are poor enough to qualify for the federal lunch program. Their odds of getting a diploma are worse than the 50-50 chance of winning a coin toss.
And that makes Oakland schools emblematic of one of society’s most vexing dilemmas: How to educate children growing up amid violence, poverty, drugs, single parenthood, teen pregnancy and unemployment.
Problems are not confined to the students. In 2002, the Oakland schools went bankrupt. In 2003, the state ousted the superintendent, suspended the school board and appointed state administrator Randy Ward.
Intent on restoring solvency, Ward has cut spending and slashed programs—and in the process alienated teachers and parents. With the focus on survival, tension is palpable. Ward relies on a bodyguard for protection.