Just 44 percent of Los Angeles Unified students receive a high school diploma, making the 727,000-student district’s graduation rate among the lowest of large urban school districts, a national study released Tuesday found.
Published by the nonpartisan publication Education Week with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the study adds more evidence to support claims that the district’s graduation rate is at or below 50 percent.
District officials have repeatedly questioned the studies and say the graduation rate is closer to 64 percent.
The Education Week study found that the LAUSD’s graduation rate was even lower than the 48 percent estimated by Harvard University in a controversial report that has been seized upon by those who want to break the district into smaller pieces.
The LAUSD was sixth from the bottom in graduation rates out of the nation’s 50 largest school districts, trailed only by Detroit, Baltimore, New York City, Milwaukee and Cleveland. The study, which looked at U.S. Department of Education graduation rates for the 2002-03 school year, found California’s graduation rate to be about 71 percent, slightly better than the nationwide average.
Superintendent Roy Romer said he was frustrated with the studies because they don’t show the district’s gains, don’t take into account students who move during the year and exclude ninth-graders who are held back because they don’t have enough units to move up.
The LAUSD reported a dropout rate of 33 percent to the state and officials maintain that new reports will show the figure has dropped to 24 percent—a nine percentage point drop in one year.
Researchers said the results were not surprising for a large urban district with high poverty, a large number of minority students and where a quarter of the students are English learners.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell said Tuesday that the report reflected what they’ve known all along—that the state’s dropout rate is too high, especially among Latino and African-American students.
The study comes at the heels of another study released in April finding that barely half of LAUSD students receive their high school diplomas, mirroring the Harvard University study from a year ago that alarmed city officials and fueled debate over the district’s effectiveness.
In the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research study, also funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the LAUSD ranked 86th out of the nation’s 100 largest school districts in its graduation rate—lower than districts in Alabama, Louisiana and Arkansas, which are historically under-performing states.
The results were even bleaker for the district’s minority students.
Blacks had a 55 percent graduation rate and Latinos 44 percent, compared with 77 percent among whites and 80 percent among Asians. Latinos account for the overwhelming majority of LAUSD students.
Fewer than one in four high school students in Detroit graduate on time, according to a new report released Tuesday that compares the 50 largest U.S. school districts and ranks the city’s public schools last in the nation.
Only 21.7% of the Detroit district’s students graduate in four years, the Diplomas Count report said. In it, the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center in Bethesda, Md., used a formula based on the number of students at the beginning of the year in each class—ninth, 10th, 11th and 12th—and the number of students who moved on to the next class the following year or graduated. The magazine Education Week published the report Tuesday.
School officials said the report was based on a formula using data from the 2002-03 school year whereby researchers estimated the likelihood that a ninth-grader would complete high school in four years, earning a traditional diploma.
“To our knowledge, they were not calculating graduation rates. They are really looking at probability rates, which is quite different,” said Juanita Clay Chambers, the district’s chief academic officer.
Even so, the report suggested Detroit’s public schools are in much worse shape than other districts at the bottom of the rankings, including New York City, which has a 38.9% graduation rate. Fairfax County, Va., was at the top, with an 82.5% rate. By comparison, the report’s methodology showed 70% of students graduating on time nationwide and 66% in Michigan.
Part of Detroit’s problem, according to the report, is that it suffers from low parental involvement as students grow older and a high transitory rate that leads students to attend several schools before graduation. It also has a small but significant number of students who end up in alternative programs to get a GED.
“They may graduate, but they don’t graduate from Detroit,” said Tyrone Winfrey, a school board member and chair of the board’s academic affairs committee.