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Lance T. Izumi - Contributor
[Courtesty of Pacific Research Institute]

Lance Izumi is Director of Education Studies for the Pacific Research Institute and
Senior Fellow in California Studies. He is a leading expert in education policy and the author of several major PRI studies. [go to Izumi index]

The Black and Hispanic Graduation Problem
Misleading state education data...
[Lance T. Izumi] 3/31/05

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell and state education officials are wiping egg off their faces. O’Connell’s Department of Education has claimed that 87 percent of California high school students graduated in 2002. A recent Harvard study, however, finds that only 71 percent of California high schoolers graduated in that year. It also reports that only about six out of 10 black and Hispanic high-school students received their diploma.

Faced with the Harvard data, state education officials have admitted that their statistical methodology is flawed, relying on undependable data from local schools. The Harvard study says that because of California’s “misleading and inaccurate” calculations of dropout and graduation rates, the public is unaware of the extent of the graduation problem, particularly the low rates for blacks and Hispanics. While the Harvard findings are welcome, they tell only part of the story.

If proportionately few black and Hispanic students graduate, fewer are taking the rigorous courses needed for college eligibility. In 2003, only 24 percent of black high school graduates and only 21 percent of Hispanic graduates took the college preparatory curriculum – the so-called “a-g” courses – required by the University of California and the California State University. Both figures are down from five years earlier. In other words, three out of four black graduates and four out of five Hispanic graduates didn’t take the coursework needed to advance to the UC or CSU system.

Further, even if they take college prep courses, students have to achieve a certain grade-point average and college admissions test-score level in order to be eligible for the state’s top universities. According to just-released data from the California Postsecondary Education Commission, “Because a lower proportion of African American and Latino ninth-graders complete high school and graduate, the gap in access to a university education is wider than indicated by eligibility rates based on high-school graduates.”

Thus, while about six percent of black and Hispanic high-school graduates are eligible for the UC, the eligibility rate nosedives if one looks at eligibility as a percentage of students who enter high school. Using that measure, only about 3.5 percent of black and Hispanic students were UC-eligible in 2003.

The bottom line is that the state’s public schools have to do a better job of preparing black and Hispanic students for academic success. There is hope, however.

There are a handful of schools that are producing high achievement among low-income black and Hispanic students. One such school is the American Indian Public Charter School in Oakland. Despite its name, about half of its students are black and Hispanic. The principal, Dr. Ben Chavis, says that the school emphasizes high expectations, standards-based learning through standards-aligned textbooks, constant practice, and diagnostic use of student scores on state tests.

At this school, teachers are hired based on their brains and abilities rather than paper credentials. The school uses self-contained classrooms where students stay with the same teacher for three years and teachers teach every subject to the same group of students. The result: American Indian is the top scoring middle school in Oakland and has an attendance rate of nearly 100 percent.

Instead of putting out false statistics that mask the failure of public education, state officials should be pushing model schools like the American Indian Public Charter School. For the sake of our children, it’s time to be honest and implement what works. CRO

copyright 2005 Pacific Research Institute



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