7 Oahu schools ‘dropout factories’
Study finds state is 11th in dropout schools, at least 40 percent of freshmen will fail before their senior year
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A national report is labeling seven Oahu public high schools as "dropout factories," meaning that no more than 60 percent of freshmen make it to their senior year.
| TOUGH KEEPING STUDENTS IN SCHOOL
At these seven Oahu public high schools, considered "dropout factories" by a national report, 60 percent or less of the students make it from freshman to senior year. Hawaii ranked 11th among the states with the highest dropout rates.
|Nanakuli High & Intermediate
|Source: Associated Press
Hawaii ranked 11th among the states reporting the most dropout factories in an analysis of Education Department data conducted by Johns Hopkins University for the Associated Press.
The state Education Department disputed the findings, noting that Hawaii ninth-graders tend to fall behind and inflate freshman enrollment. So comparing the number of freshman and seniors at any given year to determine dropout and graduation rates is misleading, said Education Department spokesman Greg Knudsen.
The percentage of isle freshmen who move on to their senior year at the schools highlighted in the report ranged from 45 percent at Nanakuli High and Intermediate to 60 percent at Kailua High. The other schools facing dropout problems include Farrington, Kaimuki, McKinley, Waianae and Waipahu, according to the study released yesterday. Those schools all have a large number of minority and low-income students.
Nationally, more than one in 10 high schools are considered "dropout factories," the report found.
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Hawaii's public school system ranks 11th among the states with the most "dropout factories," according to a national report that faulted seven Oahu high schools for having just 60 percent or fewer freshman students make it to the senior class.
Similarly high dropout rates affect more than one in 10 high schools across America, according to an analysis of Education Department data conducted by Johns Hopkins University for the Associated Press. That is 12 percent of all such schools, or 1,700 regular or vocational high schools nationwide, about the same level as a decade ago.
The percentage of freshman students who move on to their senior year at the seven Hawaii schools criticized in the report ranged from a low of 45 percent at Nanakuli High and Intermediate to 60 percent at Kailua High. The other isle schools dealing with dropout problems include Farrington, Kaimuki, McKinley, Waianae and Waipahu, the study said.
All of those schools have a large number of minority and low-income students, mirroring national statistics that tied most of the so-called dropout factories to campuses with similar student compositions.
"A few of those schools don't surprise me, since it's known that they do have more of a problem," said Greg Knudsen, spokesman for Hawaii's Education Department. "The factors that do affect graduation are often societal factors."
These schools are tougher to turn around because their students face challenges well beyond academics -- the need to work as well as go to school, for example, or a need for social services.
Utah, which has low poverty rates and fewer minorities than most states, is the only state without a dropout factory. Florida and South Carolina have the most. Hawaii placed ahead of Alaska and below Arizona.
But Knudsen disputed some of the findings. He argued that freshman enrollment regularly dwarfs senior classes because of failing ninth-graders who fall behind but eventually graduate on time. So comparing the number of freshman and seniors at any given year to determine dropout and graduation rates is misleading, Knudsen said.
According to the state Education Department, graduation and dropout figures have been stable at 79 percent and 15 percent, respectively.
Bob Balfanz, the Johns Hopkins researcher who coined the term "dropout factory," said while some of the missing students transferred, most dropped out.
The data looked at senior classes for three years in a row -- 2004, 2005 and 2006 -- to make sure local events like plant closures were not to blame for the low retention rates.
The study does not address senior-year dropouts.
McKinley High, with a little more than 1,800 students, is losing about half of its freshman class in the three years leading to the senior year. About nine in 10 students at the Honolulu school are minority, and half of all students enrolled qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, a measure of poverty.
To catch students before they fail or drop out, McKinley began offering students last year more opportunities for individual meetings with teachers to help them with late assignments, give them updates on where they stand and discuss ways to improve grades.
"We are trying to put in place more frequent conversation with teachers and parents, with teachers and students," said Mary Uyesugi, curriculum coordinator at McKinley, which has a 75 percent graduation rate. "The student needs to have a sheet of paper signed by all ... teachers indicating that yes, this conference has taken place."
Washington, D.C., has not focused much attention on the problem. The No Child Left Behind Act, for example, pays much more attention to educating younger students. But that appears to be changing.
The current mandate imposes serious consequences on schools that report low scores on math and reading tests, and this fallout can include replacement of teachers or principals -- or both. But the law does not have the same kind of enforcement teeth when it comes to graduation rates.
Nationally, about 70 percent of U.S. students graduate on time with a regular diploma. For Hispanic and black students, the proportion drops to about half.
The Associated Press and Star-Bulletin reporter Alexandre Da Silva contributed to this report.