Dropouts start in 8th grade

For the first time ever, California is reporting the eighth-grade dropout rate, reports the Los Angeles Times. Statewide, about 3.5% of eighth-graders didn’t return to school for ninth grade.

California now gives each public school student an identification numbers, so it’s possible to know whether vanished students enrolled in a different school or passed the GED.

Overall, 74.4% of California high school students graduated in four years, according to state data; 18.2% dropped out. The remainder were still in school (6.6%), were in non-diploma programs for disabled students (0.5%) or left high school by taking the General Educational Development (GED) Test (0.4%).

The graduation rate is 68% for Latinos, 59% for blacks,  83.4% for whites and 89.4% for Asians.

“The latest numbers could still underestimate the number of dropouts, because, for example, they depend on school clerks verifying whether a student dropped out, moved or transferred to a private school,” the Times notes.


About Joanne


  1. I think this info is really critical:

    “The latest numbers could still underestimate the number of dropouts, because, for example, they depend on school clerks verifying whether a student dropped out, moved or transferred to a private school,” the Times notes.

    How are “school clerks” supposed to do this? Anyone who has ever called through a school list especially of low-income parents (I have; anyone else?) knows how many numbers are disconnected or messages are unreturned. Low-income people tend to have very unstable lives. School offices are busy and chaotic, especially in stressed urban schools — “school clerks” aren’t detectives.

    I don’t downplay the dropout rate. I do disagree that lots of kids are dropping out after 8th grade, unless they’re truly feral kids. It’s still norm in all communities for kids to go to school in some fashion or other. Midway through high school is when disaffected kids start resisting in earnest.

  2. Another confounding factor would be immigrant children who return to their home countries. In addition, this sytem doesn’t seem to account for children who move to another state.

  3. Cranberry says:

    If a child’s been held back twice by his eighth grade year, he’ll be 16 at its conclusion. A boy’s who’s been “red-shirted” before entering kindergarten would be 16 at the conclusion of 8th grade after one grade-level retention. In many states, students may drop out at 16.

    • CarolineSF says:

      That’s possible, Cranberry, but it would be an outlier, definitely a weird situation. Especially because red-shirting a kids takes a pretty high degree of parent involvement and concern — and requires an extra year of child care — and kids whose parents are involved, concerned and willing/able to pay for/arrange an extra year of child care inherently have family support and are thus less likely to drop out.

  4. Just because kids are supposed to be in school till they turn 16 doesn’t mean they don’t drop out earlier. If a student doesn’t show up for ninth grade, who’s to know he or she isn’t enrolled elsewhere? (Now the state knows the student isn’t enrolled anywhere, but the high school doesn’t know.)

    When I was reporting the welfare reform series for the Mercury News, I met people who’d dropped out of school at 14 or 15. Nobody noticed.

    Alum Rock, a large K-8 district in East San Jose, has run a program for “pregnant and parenting” girls for many years in hopes of preventing seventh- and eighth-grade mothers from dropping out. Some of these girls are one or two years old for their grade, but others are just pregnant at 13.

    • Yes, I agree that it’s impossible to keep track of where all students have gone — that’s my point. It’s not realistic to believe that school staffs could be effectively keeping tabs on where every student has gone. (I see MarkM is grabbing the opportunity to beat up on lazy school secretaries too — oh boy, a whole new target for reformers’ hostility.)

      I also agree that it’s possible to drop out at 14 or 15, and it certainly happens. And it’s quite possible for nobody to notice in the sense that no one is doing the legwork to track down every no-show student. I just don’t think dropping out at middle school age or 9th grade is considered normal or acceptable in any communities except perhaps the truly most alienated and dysfunctional. By contrast, dropping out at 16 — after sophomore or maybe junior year — is considered reasonable, acceptable and not that big a deal in some communities. Pregnancy is something else — I’m sure most families just shrug, “What can we do?”

      One year, PTSA volunteers at my kids’ diverse urban public middle school had to phone all 300 incoming 6th-grade families listed on the roster. As I indicated before, anyone who tried that would smite your forehead and admit that your worldview had shifted. The disconnects, phones answered by non-English-speakers, phones answered by kids who said no adult was available and other
      situations that fatally thwarted communication were pretty overwhelming, not counting just messages left on machines and voicemail. (If we had been calling to get information, such as “where is your child going to school now,” how many of those messages would have been returned?) And we weren’t callers anyone would inherently want to avoid, as might be the case for many reasons with a family whose kid had left school.

  5. palisadesk says:

    This certainly happens in my district. We have 8th grade graduates who show up to enroll in 9th grade and go AWOL thereafter. High schools don’t have the staff to policew attendance (often phones are disconnected, or the kids delete the messages from the answering machine); parents may not know their child isn’t going to school, and if they do know, they may not be able to do anything about it.

    A couple of years ago we had data from my K-8 school that 40% of our 8th grade graduates were out of school before the end of 10th grade. A significant number of those were out in 9th, and many were not 16 yet, but there is insifficient staff to enforce the requiremnent for kids to stay in school.

  6. Richard Aubrey says:

    From the article and the comments, it seems the dropout figures are so unreliable, the possibilities ranging over such a huge proportion of the numbers between zero and one hundred, that they are irrelevant. Particularly the tenths. But, while it’s probably best to ignore them, the actual phenomenon needs some watching. But there’s no way to tell what you’re watching.
    Maybe polling, say, thirty year olds to find out when they quit would be more accurate as a retrospective, if you could count on a representative sample, which you can’t.

  7. Caroline: Don’t schools request the records from a transferring child’s previous school? Even if the parents cannot identify the previous school, an 8th grade graduate certainly ought to know. So it seems that what you are telling me is that, when administrative staffs became much, much larger than they were for comparable schools 40 years ago, they also became far less competent – unable even to match those requests to their missing students and determine who transferred and who dropped out.

    • Yes, presumably a school requesting the records from a previous school would lead to information on where that student had gone. The students in the unknown zone would be those for whom the previous school didn’t get that call. Is it assumed that they’re dropouts?

      It’s not my understanding that administrative staffs are larger — let alone “much, much larger” than for comparable schools 40 years ago; are there statistics to that effect? In any case, as I mentioned elsewhere beating up on school secretaries — who would presumably be the culprits in this dereliction of duty — is a whole new outlet for reformers’ hostilities.

  8. Well, this came about when the nation started going to compulsory attendance rather than compulsory education (there is a difference). Students would simply get dropped off at school by parents, and they’d just turn around and walk off campus (despite the school district here having a closed campus policy at all grade levels).

    I’ve been in fast food places close to school at 10:00AM in the morning, and there are a huge number of kids from high school and middle school there. The stores do ABSOLUTELY nothing to discourage the kids from coming in, even though the managers and employees KNOW full well they’re not supposed to be off-campus.

    I remember once when the truant officers and cops showed up…they busted 20+ students and hit their rear ends with 250 fines for skipping class. Perhaps they should go back to that type of policing.

    Of course, if the kids don’t want to get an education, let them drop out. I’m sure a great many of them today are starting to realize that they’re completely unemployable by any measure of education or work experience.

  9. So it seems that what you are telling me is that, when administrative staffs became much, much larger than they were for comparable schools 40 years ago, they also became far less competent – unable even to match those requests to their missing students and determine who transferred and who dropped out.

    40 years ago, they didn’t have to match those requests, since kids just dropped out without tracking. So no, she’s not telling you that, and no, that’s not what any reasonable person could conclude “seems” to be the case.

    It’s bad enough you’re always one-note, but every post you make has exactly the same problem: useless premise, baseless conclusion.


    I wonder if a lot of kids who say they drop out (eg Joanne’s experience) are just lying. But that may be because my mind reels at the possibility that the kids at the bottom of the incentive/competence level at school aren’t actually the bottom–that these kids, for all their shocking levels of utter lack of interest and ability, are showing they care by showing up.

    I teach at a Title I school with a high level of absenteeism. I would say my school’s low achieving kids (say the bottom 20%) aren’t quite the lowest of the low achievers nationwide–say there’s maybe another 15-20% below them.

    So if it’s true that there actually is a significant level below the lowest level that show up at school then any policy that wants us to track the down and teach them will also have to dramatically reduce it’s already absurdly high expectations. The discussion always seems to focus solely on what these kids are missing out on, but in fact, pulling these kids back in and trying to educate them would put a huge burden on the schools themselves.

    In fact, though, I think that most kids are in the system somewhere, and tracked as dropouts. They don’t drop out completely; they just go to school a few times a week when they feel like it and are already wasting everyone’s time and money. I’m skeptical that there’s a lower tier that drops out, unseen.

    Could be that this is just what passes for cheery optimism in me.

  10. Ack–its, not it’s. them, not the.

  11. Lightly Seasoned says:

    I think the missing drop-outs, as such, either don’t show up somewhere, so there’s no where to send the paperwork to, or are pulled out as “home schooled.” I’ve seen both happen.