State rate for Latino and black students remains double that of whites
Oregon's high school dropout rate declined to a new low last year. But things weren't so positive for Portland's public high schools, according to a state report released Thursday.
Nor were they very positive for high schools in two smaller Portland school districts.
The overall percentage of high school dropouts from Portland Public Schools declined a bit last year. But almost all of that decline came from the district's relatively small alternative high school programs. The percentage actually increased at eight of the 10 traditional high schools in Portland Public Schools.
And among smaller school districts with territory in Portland, only David Douglas High School had a lower percentage of dropouts last year than the year before. Dropout percentages increased at Centennial High School and went up slightly at Parkrose High School.
Meanwhile, while the Oregon Department of Education report showed a notable decline in Latino dropouts across the state last year, Oregon's dropout rate for black students was 11 percent, where it has hovered for the past four years.
And the dropout rate for both groups Ñ in Portland and throughout Oregon Ñ continued to be more than twice the 4.5 percent rate for white students.
'It just supports even more the continuing argument we have around the achievement gap and the lack of support kids of color are getting around education,' said Tony Hopson, a member of the Education Crisis Team, a group composed of education advocates for children of Portland minorities and low-income whites.
The education department has released dropout reports annually for the last 10 years. The statistics are watched closely, not only for what they say about the state's schools but also for what they portend for the growing number of dropouts:
High school dropouts have lower lifetime incomes, higher unemployment rates and higher divorce rates and make up a majority of the incarcerated population.
The high percentage of high school dropouts is considered one of the most critical issues in public education. Some research shows one-quarter to one-half of ninth-graders in high schools across the nation are not in school and do not graduate four years later.
And costs to society only increase as the problem festers Ñ as dropouts become unemployable, commit crimes and are incarcerated, Hopson said.
'When you don't (attack) it on the front end, you wind up paying four or five times as much on the back end,' he said. 'It's just a vicious cycle, and I'm just amazed that we don't get that.'
Some people criticize the state figures as understating the dropout problem. Among other things, they criticize that the state considers youths who are in detention facilities and others who receive General Educational Development degrees as nondropouts Ñ even though they aren't likely to finish high school.
There was some good news in Thursday's report.
First, the portion of Oregon high school students who dropped out of school declined to 5.25 percent last year from 6.3 percent two years ago.
That figure represents the percentage of high schoolers who drop out in a single year. The education department uses a mathematical formula to estimate what the dropout rate is over four years. Based on 5.25 percent, that four-year figure is 15.67 percent.
The dropout rate among Oregon Latino students continued a four-year decline. The state report showed 11.3 percent of Latino students dropped out last year, compared with 13.3 percent in 1999-2000 and 16.4 percent in 1997-1998.
Locally, the dropout rate at David Douglas High School in east Portland declined by more than a full percentage point. Out of 2,248 students at David Douglas last year, 89 dropped out.
And Portland's Marshall High School posted one of the largest dropout declines in the state Ñ from a rate of 11.71 percent in 1999-2000 to 7.67 percent last year. Lincoln High School was the other Portland public high school with a decline, from 4.22 percent two years ago to 3.64 percent last year.
People working on reforming Portland's high schools saw hope in the Marshall figures.
Leslie Rennie-Hill, an education specialist with the nonprofit Portland Schools Foundation, said that when Marshall's high dropout rate was reported last year, 'to (staff members') credit, instead of finding a lot of excuses, they said, 'What's going on? We've got to do something about this.' And as a faculty they really pulled together in a professional way.'
Marshall instituted programs to, among other things, establish a better connection between the school and incoming ninth-graders who are in danger of dropping out, Rennie-Hill said.
Many of the other nine high schools are working on similar programs, with help from private and federal grants, Rennie-Hill said. But those programs in general had not progressed as far as Marshall's by last year. And it showed.
The other eight Portland public high schools saw their composite dropout rates increase from 4.5 percent to 5.5 percent last year.
'If the schools weren't doing anything about this, weren't concerned, I would be appalled,' Rennie-Hill said. 'But we know this is a problem, and people across the district are concerned about it.'