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High school graduation rates are a community health indicator

High school graduation rates are a community health indicator

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Why is the high school dropout rate in the San Joaquin Valley among the highest in the California?

Teachers, administrators and community activists place the overall dropout rate in the Fresno Unified School District at between 30% and 40%; higher for Hispanic, Black and Hmong male youths -- somewhere between 50% and 65%.

But, the dropout rate is just one data point in the interconnected web of community health. Before Valley students ever set foot in school, they and their families face a 22% poverty rate, unsafe routes to school, inadequate nutrition, gang violence in their neighborhoods and the need for students to work and support the family. When students do attend school, they find fewer resources to support their educational goals. Among many examples, California schools spend $2,100 less per student than the national average.

As part of research for a grant to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s initiative American Graduate (for production and community engagement funding), I attended an interactive forum on how education will shape the future of the San Joaquin Valley. The day of events was sponsored by California Watch, Campaign for College Opportunity, UC Merced, Merced Community College and the Merced Sun Star. Students shared their personal stories and reflections about what getting an education means to them and their loved ones. Educators and researchers presented the plain facts about the importance of educational attainment to the social, financial and cultural health of individuals and communities.

The Public Policy Institute of California reports that compared to high school graduates, dropouts have higher rates of unemployment, lower earnings, poorer health and higher mortality rates, higher rates of criminal behavior and incarceration and increased dependence on public assistance.   Reducing the number of dropouts by half would generate $221 million in economic benefits to the City of Fresno. It would also result in 278 fewer murders and aggravated assaults each year according to the California Dropout Research Project.

Reporting on Change and Challenges

Through a focus on first person stories, CapRadio's multi-media documentary series, The View From Here, will explore the complex issues that define the education crisis in the San Joaquin Valley. We aim to hear from youth and adults touched by the dropout crisis. Our reporters and community engagement staff will spend time in the Valley, before documentary production commences, to build the relationships that will allow us to tell stories with accuracy, depth, nuance and respect. Our plan is to involve students, dropouts, their families, teachers and allies in shaping the stories that told in our documentary project. With CPB funding, we’ll lead a social media campaign that highlights student stories and invites naming of the problems and sharing of the solutions. CapRadio’s daily talk show, Insight, will broadcast a live community forum from the San Joaquin Valley, as part of our community engagement collaboration.

Image by SickestFame via Flickr


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Good afternoon,

Where did you find Fresno Unified School District's high school dropout rates? Furthermore, where did you find the poverty rates and expenditure per student figures used in the blog?

Sabrina White

Picture of Catherine Stifter


Thanks for asking about the data. I hope you'll find these sources to be helpful. 

I'm looking at several sources including Ed Data and CA Dropout Research Project as well as anecdotal interviews with teachers, administrators and community activists. Most sources draw data from CA Dept of Ed statistics. By definition in that count, there are more students who do not obtain high school diplomas than are categorized as dropouts. Data is inconsistent before and after SSID assignments for tracking individual students went into place in 2006.  


"For years, California was not able to accurately report the number of students who drop out of high school. The state relied on aggregate reports from school districts because it had no student-level data system in place to track where students were enrolled throughout their K-12 public school education. This resulted in many students falling through the cracks of the system and not being counted as a dropout (i.e.: transferring to another school and then never showing up)."

"However students from the cohort who (1) pass the General Education Development (GED) test, (2) complete requirements necessary to obtain a special education certificate of completion, or (3) remain enrolled in the 9-12 instructional system without a high school diploma are not included in calculations for either the cohort graduation or cohort dropout rates."

"With the 2009-10 school year, the CDE began reporting 4-year cohort graduate and dropout data and we have replaced the Dropouts by Ethnicity and Graduates by Ethnicity tables on Ed-Data with new Cohort Graduation Rate and Cohort Dropout Rate tables that reflect this new way of calculating the data."

New Data just came out from the CA Dept of Ed showing what appears to be a slight improvement

Poverty rates are from US census data. For example Fresno County

Persons below poverty level 2007-2011 =  23.4%

And that expenditure per student figure is in error. The sentence should read:

California schools spend *$3,000* less per student than the national average.

US = $11,665

CA = $8,667

Thanks for asking!


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