Dropout rates rise in San Francisco schools

Dear SF Examiner,

Your story, “Dropout rates rise in San Francisco schools,” dated August 13, 2011, compared newly reported dropout rates for SFUSD to past years. As I discussed with reporter Andrea Koskey, the state has begun calculating dropouts by tracking actual student attendance and graduation, whereas previously the rates were the state’s estimation based on a formula. The California Department of Education (CDE) specifically cautions that rates should not be compared to any rates from previous years because it is based on a different method of calculation.

The San Francisco Unified School District is pleased that this new calculation is more accurate than previous years’ methods and is committed to lowering its dropout rate of 10.7 percent.

Also, please note that in this story you misspelled the last name of our Assistant Superintendent for High Schools. It is spelled Schulze.

Sincerely, Gentle Blythe
SFUSD Executive Director, Public Outreach and Communications  

San Francisco high schools
Kids in San Francisco bolted from high school at a much higher rate last year than the year prior, according to data released by the California Department of Education — but officials in The City might have the answer for keeping them in class.

In the 2009-10 school year, an estimated 521 out of 18,296 high school students left San Francisco schools without a diploma. That number is up drastically from the 2008-09 school year, in which only 325 of 19,074 students left school early.

But Janet Shulze, assistant superintendent of high schools for the San Francisco Unified School District, said officials are using data to track middle school students that have less than a 2.0 GPA and have an attendance rate of less than 87 percent because they are more likely to drop out.

“It’s ideal to catch every student no matter where they are,” she said. “Across all high schools, we have a plan in place to support them academically.”

Shulze said students who fall behind on credits toward graduation can make up courses after school, and the availability of online classes is increasing to help keep kids on track.

San Francisco’s dropout rate increase is opposite to the state’s figure, which declined from 21.7 percent of the roughly 2 million high school students leaving school in 2008-09 to 18.2 percent in 2009-10.

The figures  have bounced around for the past few years. This year’s numbers are creeping back toward district highs in the 2007-08 school year, when 729 students dropped out, and in 2006-07, when 769 students left.

One way the SFUSD is fighting the number of dropouts is by addressing attendance rates.
Four years ago, the SFUSD teamed up with the District Attorney’s Office to reduce truancy, holding parents and schools more accountable — even pressing charges in some cases. A student is considered truant when they miss eight days or more in a given school year.

Since the efforts began, the district and The City have been able to reduce the number of chronically absent and habitually truant students each year.

According to District Attorney’s Office, there was a 16 percent reduction in chronically absent students and an 11 percent reduction in truant students in the 2010-11 school year.