High School Dropout Rates See Minor Decrease

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Slightly fewer Berkeley Unified School District students are dropping out of high school, a trend that district officials say is encouraging but still leaves room for improvement.

The district saw a 14.2 percent high school dropout rate in the 2007-08 school year, which was a drop of 0.2 percentage points from the previous year, according to a report published by the California Department of Education.

At Berkeley High School, the dropout rate was 11.1 percent in 2007-08, down from 11.5 percent in 2006-07.

Dropout rates have gone down across California as well. However, the state's rate is still too high, according to Zena Mello, a postdoctoral fellow in the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Education.

In the report, the state saw a one percent decrease in its dropout rate, from 21.1 percent in 2006-07 to 20.1 percent in 2007-08.

"It is a one whole percentage point drop," Mello said. "Regardless ... one in five kids are dropping out of high school and that is huge."

The rate in Berkeley is lower than that of the state because of the district's desegregation and integration plan, as well as the presence of UC Berkeley in the city, said John Selawsky, a member of the district board of education.

"I think it reflects somewhat the values and the culture (of the community)," he said. "(But) we need to improve those numbers."

Berkeley's rate falls between that of its neighbors Albany City Unified School District and Oakland Unified School District, whose rates were seven percent and 28.2 percent in 2007-08, respectively.

Selawsky attributed the range in rates to varying socioeconomic disparities in each city.

Garth Mitchell, whose son is a senior at Berkeley High School, said the school's current dropout rate is very high and "any improvement is welcome."

He said that he recognizes efforts on behalf of the district to decrease the dropout rate, but added that issues many students face at home can have a significant impact on their success.

"(The district) can only do so much while the kids are at school," Mitchell said.

Mello said that teenagers dropping out of school has a huge impact on the economy down the road because high school dropouts are more likely to have low-income jobs or be unemployed.

"Every day you stay in school you're better off," she said. "Every year you stay in school you're better off. Stay in school."


Tess Townsend covers local schools. Contact her at [email protected]

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