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Do Now

More than one out of five high school students in California drop out of school. Answer one or more of these questions: What do you think is the biggest reason why so many students don’t make it to graduation? Do you know of someone who dropped out? What do you think was the cause?


More than 20 percent of California high school students drop out of school before graduation, according to 2009 state education data. That’s a lot of students! To get a sense of just how many, imagine sitting in your math class and counting out every fifth student sitting in class with you. In a class of 30, that would be six students.

Of course, 20 percent is just the average dropout rate in California. Some schools have a much lower rate, but for others, it’s much, much higher. And in many cases, it’s low-income areas with large minority student populations that have some of the highest dropout rates.

For instance, in 2009 more than one third of California’s African American public high school students didn’t graduate. That’s far above the rate for any other ethnic group. Hispanics had the second highest rate, at 27 percent, according to the state’s data.

The dropout rate differences between school districts also varied greatly. In Oakland, for instance, the dropout rate in 2009 was 40 percent, one of the highest in the state (up from 28 percent the previous year). But directly across the bridge in San Francisco, the rate was only 9 percent (down from 18 percent in 2008).

Search for dropout rates by individual school, district, and county across California.


PBS NewsHour video To Lower Dropout Rates, Finding Potential Where Support Systems Are Lacking – Feb. 7, 2013
Nonprofit educational organization OneGoal has partnered with Chicago public school to push kids at risk of dropping out of high school to persist and attend college. Ash-har Quraishi of WTTW Chicago reports for our American Graduate project on the special curriculum that hones leadership skills these kids often already have.

To respond to the Do Now, you can comment below or tweet your response. Be sure to begin your tweet with@KQEDedspace and end it with #KQEDDoNow

For more info on how to use Twitter, click here.

We encourage students to tweet their personal opinions as well as support their ideas with links to interesting/credible articles online (adding a nice research component) or retweet other people’s ideas that they agree/disagree/find amusing. We also value student-produced media linked to their tweets like memes or more extensive blog posts to represent their ideas. Of course, do as you can…and any contribution is most welcomed.

More Resources

Bay Area Video Coalition presents Checkmate – Sept. 10, 2012
This film was produced by students from BAVC’s The Factory, an after school video production program. This film explores the complexities of the high school dropout crisis told through the point of view of a student who compares dropping out to the game of chess. This film won third prize at The Rise to the Occasion Youth Media Festival.

PBS NewsHour post Former Dropouts and Their Paths to Success – Sept. 24, 2012
We hear from several former at-risk students who share their personal stories and lessons learned on how they overcame their situations.

  • Caleb AKA Zoothulu

    #KQEDDoNow I think the biggest reason of not graduating is the situations they might have at home with their family also they might just be punk teenagers that think it would be cool not to graduate and just drop out because they don’t wanna go to school, even though going to school in a privilage to enhance your mind. I know someone who dropped out she was my good friend in Illinois, just recently found out, because she was constantly moving and changing schools and got sick of introducing herself and now is getting home schooled.

  • Michael Barnett

    To be honest with whoever may be reading this answer i think the reason why so many people are dropping out is because they disagree with the grading system or it is found to be to hard for them to even try. With this i mean who is to say what a student needs to know to graduate?? the state i just find that real wrong they don’t know what we go through but yet they can say what i have to know to graduate. and as far as the grading system i completly disagree with it all it does is show who is the best in your class and that is wrong. maybe school should teach more life lessons rather than what is a2+b2=c2 we don’t really need that but yet we still learn it. and no i don’t know anybody who has dropped out of high school #KQEDDoNow

  • I live in a small town in mid-west Missouri so not many kid srop out here. I only know of one who did and he is working a pretty good job now. i think the main reason for dropping out is either drug use or its too hard for them. Honestly the drug thing isnt that bad around here but we have people who arent the brightest crayon in the box and school starts to get tough so they just quit. Being a small town you would think that the families around here would support there child which they do in most cases. there are some though who just dont care, and that influences the child in not caring and dropping out. To be honest if I could drop out I would but I have my whole family supporting me and forcing me to stay in school so family problem could also be a factor in this. #kqeddonow

  • I think the biggest reason kids drop out is because they have to get a job to support their family. Also another reason might be because they think high school is to hard and if they cant pass high school how would they ever graduate college.

  • They are low income so may not be able to afford the the things higher income stuff and they dont have the drive to do school any more if they ever did. Yes, my grandma droped out of 8th grade. But she did it because she had to whatch her sibblings.

  • I think the biggest reason why some people don’t finish high school is because they don’t have motivation to go through high school.

  • i think that many people dont make it to graduation because they arent as confident as students who make good grades. maybe they have struggled through out their highschool career. another major reason people may drop out is teenage pregancy. Yes, i do know someone who has dropped out of highschool, he had alot going on in his life and was getting very impacient with school. he was also having a hard time with his grades and didnt have many friends.

  • ac

    he should do good in school and graduate so he is not a tick on society

  • Grayson Brooke Webb

    I think that the main reason that most students do not make it to graduation is that they dont think they are smart enough to do the work that is required of them. So, they slack off and choose to drop out of high school so they can just be done with school. But, what they dont realize is that to make it as anything in this world, a high school diploma is needed to make a future of themselves. I do not personally know anyone that has dropped out of school, but if I did, I think that may be the reason that they did. It is a shame that students choose not to finish what they started. Its like Picasso starting a painting and not finishing it.

  • Robert Jones

    i think it is because of the bad influnce in calf. not the students learning and the students want to be in gangs and all that and in up in jail and their parents are the cause of it or ect or it could they are stubborn and hate school and don’t think its useful so they drop out and get in troblue. I seen three students drop out in west platte and they were in a gang and they think they were hot shots until they got arrested. Alot of people think they are hotshots until they get ourt in the real world

  • Essence

    1)i believe that most students drop out do to the fact that their parents don’t care enough to make them go to school, and make them realize that education is the key to life and success.
    2) Yes i do know of some of my friends that have dropped out of high school.
    3) Like before i believe that the parents are at the most fault because if parents cared about their children and their life then they would force them to get an education, even if they don’t want to

  • eric flood

    I think that the main reason that people drop out of school is because they need to make money and they might have a family to provide for. I don’t know anybody who ever dropped out of high school but i do know people that have dropped out of college and it was because they had to get a full time job to provide for there kid.

  • edgar

    i think the problem is that student get caught into drugs, gangs, and family problems. I know a friend that got caught into the gang life. He dropped out. A month he got shot and killed. This experience made me into a better person.

  • Nazario

    Many student don’t make it to graduate is that students don’t get the help from there parents or some students don’t have parents it causes them to don’t get concentrated to graduate. I know a cousin that drop out, that student had difficulty learning English.

  • russan

    I think students drop out of school because they don’t want to do there work or they have problems @ the house.

  • tyler woods

    #kqeddonow students should stay in school so that they can get there education.#mscentershistoryclass

  • Nicole Alba

    I think students drop out because of money situations and they can’t buy the books necessary for a particular class. My brother dropped out of high school and it was because of that particular thing.

  • Allegra Rotondo

    I think that students drop out of high school due to issues at home and loss of interest in school. Students like these are set up to think this way, and don’t think about their future. A lot of my family didn’t graduate high school because they got into drugs.

  • rossaun bowser

    #kqeddonowI think they drop out because the work is to hard for them and they can’t handle it.#ms.centerhistoryclass

  • Angel Solis

    I think that most of the students drop out because its hard for them to keep track of their work and lessons that they need to succeed through education

  • mkenyon

    The reason i think people drop out of school is?They do not have a lot of support at home there parents are not around.There main focus is not on school it is somewhere else or they just do not wanna be at school.They did not have a middle school education.

  • #kqeddonow #mscenterhistoryclass I think people drop out of school so they don’t have to do their work and they think it’s easier

  • Orijen Wildee

    I think the biggest reason students drop out of high school is that they don’t believe they can do the work. They think it is to hard for them

  • Grace Vaughan Brekke

    I think students drop out of high school for one of two reasons, they think that it’s the ‘cool thing’ to do and they get caught up in stuff on the streets; or the more common reason, financial stability. When it is financial problems I feel really badly for those people because they had their whole future ahead of them, but since money rules the world they weren’t able to succeed.

  • Nicole W-Sandefur

    I think that people drop out of school because they are having a hard time with their work and their not understanding what to do. Also I think students drop out because they just want to live a life with education, which doesn’t make any since because how are they gonna get a job and start their life. #KQEDDONOW #MSCENTERHISTORYCLASS

  • A’Shari Jackson

    I think that high school drop outs are because of their race and their education skills. It’s a horrible fact that that is the reason why they can’t get through high school. I think it’s better to have a high school the way elementary and middle school are. They just keep passing you. But that’s not the case. So I’m just going to hope that’s I get through high school.

  • Larry Beam

    I think some of the reasons people drop out of high school is because they are young fathers, gang violence, drugs, or they just couldn’t take the pressure. One of the reasons some of the people in my family dropped out was because they couldn’t handle the pressure. I am thankful that they didn’t get into drugs, but dropping out is still a thing people shouldn’t do. Just tough it out, and your “nightmare” will be over.

  • Lauryn Boyd

    High school drop is bad for a students education because he/she isn’t going to make it in life. Just like my uncle he dropped out when he was in the 10th grade and dropped out because he said he knew he wasn’t going to make it in Life ! Now he just back and fourth every where looking like a low life ! But yes on serious topic High School is very serious in your school life !

    #KqedDoNow #MsCenterHistoryClass

  • Moises Torres

    I think the reason that some kids drop is because they didn’t have enough rates

  • Aramonii

    I think kids drop out of school because they get to caught up in drugs and stuff

  • izaiah hill

    people drop out do to drug abuse and domestic violence i also think kids drop out because they thnk its a cool thing to do and school just doesn’t interest them

  • #kqeddonow #mscenterhistoryclass I think student’s drop out of school because they don’t have enough money or they just don’t like school.

  • Eric Young

    I think people drop out because they don’t have any education so they drop out and resort to selling drugs

  • Larry Beam

    Maurice Wilson-I think students drop out of High School because they feel as if it’s too much pressure.Maybe they feel like it’s too much work.Some drop outs are caused because of race,education skills.Dropping out of school is a terrible way to deal with the pressure of being a High School student./ #kqeddonow #mscenterhistoryclass

  • #kqed# ms centers history class sometimes school isn’t for everybody not a lot of people can handle the pressure of living up to the expectation of graduating,knowing that your family is counting on you is scary

  • Sal

    I think the biggest reason that kids drop out is that they feel like they don’t belong in their school for whatever reason. Feeling like they don’t belong in school may cause students not to be motivated to even go to school.

  • Destiny Moreno

    kids that drop out of school trully have given up on tryin’. students can do what they what for school but it only goes so far, you have to want a better life to keep moving.

    #kqeddonow #mscenterhistoryclass

  • Andy Harris

    #kqeddonow I think kids dropout because they might feel like it is to hard. They might want to just be cool. Bt i think most teenagers dropout because they want to be cool but thats not the case soon as you drop out you can’t come back

  • Ivy

    I think kids drop out to help their families. But some drop out acting like little thugs and they don’t believe in them selves that they can do he work.#KQED DoNow #Ms Center History Class

  • I think that some people dropout because maybe they feel like they have gotten enough education to get a job…

  • #KQEDDONOW I think kids drop out of school because they have babies in school also because they don’t learn enough in class #MS.CENTERHISTORYCLASS

  • Xochtl H.G.

    I think the biggest reasons why kids drop out of high school is because a lot of people underestimate the pressure of high school. In elementary and middle school, you can just go along doing the bare minimum of work, and you’ll keep getting pushed into the next grade. High school though, is different; the school doesn’t care if you drop out or not and won’t take you to the next grade simply by default.

  • Kierra

    I think kids drop out of school because they think education is not important and it is not that serious to them so that they can get their education they should just stay in school and learn something they didn’t know for they can eventually learn it in the long run and their going to become dummies and not no anything at all soo thats it for all the drop out kids and i wish all of you guys the best of LUCK


  • Aracely

    I think students are dropping out of school because the classes are getting too hard for them and they can’t keep up with the work.

  • amir

    i think kids drop out of school because they get in drugs and start to do bad things lie get into games and stuff

  • i think kids drop out of school because they feel like schools no good for them and feel that they can’t make it or do what teachers give them and all they do is just put they self down all the time because of what others think about them and don’t try to show the people that they can do it just go with what the next person says #kqeddonow #ms.centerhistoryclass

  • Nico Reno

    #kqeddonow #MrCenterHistoryClass

    I think that students drop out because they know that they are going to fail.

  • I believe that the dropout rates not only stem from bad parenting at the home front but also could be due to the way he/she was raised poverty stricken or not. Also historically; Like the white opressors in slavery

  • I believe that the dropout rates not only stem from bad parenting at the home front but also could be due to the way he/she was raised poverty stricken or not but also historically; Like the white opressors in slavery and what they did to enslaved Afrikans still has its racial, economic, dehuminizing effects til this day. If you look at the chart you’ll see Blacks topping the charts at 37% but then again I believe its due to what has happened in history to us and to this day what still goes on..Cuz as a people we still gotta bounce back and we will that’s withouta doubt, education or not cuz we smart like that

  • Taylor Campbell

    Biggest reason kids don’t make it to graduation is the lack of motivation or family issues. I don’t know nobody that dropped out of highschool.

  • Odell Davis

    I think high school students drop out of high school because they are lazy and they think its better to be out of class doing nothing than it is to be in class learning.

  • Camille

    I think that one of the main reasons is that they face a lot of family issues, or issues at home. It can be really hard for people to go to school when they are struggling at home. School is really tough, and if you are not fully rested or relaxed it is hard to do well, so they drop out. I do not know anyone.

  • Tigris Truasia

    I think the biggest reason kids drop out is because they don’t have any motivation . I know of a few people that have dropped out , I think the cause is no motivation from either friends or family

  • Kevin L

    I think the reason most kids drop out is because they don’t see how school is relevant, or how it helps them in real life. They might think its smarter to just get a job instead of wasting their time in school.

  • Tommy R.

    To me as a Hispanic ex-students drop out school because of drugs (weed) and they think school is to hard and decide to give up. I know some students that dropped out due to drugs for example, they start working and make easy money so they decide to stay like that.

  • akil stewart

    i think people drop out due to babys to hard or nobody helping them

    • Austin Davison

      thats true but in reality if your in highschool your not ready to become a parent. Education is important for everyone and its up to the person who wants to stay in school

  • Lyndsey

    I think the biggest reason why students don’t graduate is due to the lack of people pushing them to do well at home. I know a girl who dropped out because she has mental problems and would rather run across the country hitchhiking from state to state.

  • Isadora M

    I think that the main reason for the high dropout rate is that students become discouraged and no one encourages them.

  • Juan Figueroa

    I think that these students drop out because of lack of motivation. If they were motivated and cared they wouldve done well but they instead give up and drop out.

  • Justyce Key

    The biggest reason kids don’t make it is there is no motivation within their family. Or they might not even have a stable home which causes stress.

    • breona

      I agree . If kids parents aren’t there motivating their child to go to school they will feel like school isn’t important.

  • kelani

    I think kids drop out of school because they’re mentally not ready and cant deal with peer pressure.

  • xavier braaaah

    yes, i know multiple people who have dropped out. In most of cases it was because of drugs, and bad influences.

  • Richard Johnson-Gainey

    one of the biggest reason why high school students drop out is they can’t handle the work is giving to them. i do know someone who have drop out. i believe the reason he drop out because he did not like school.

  • Miriam

    I think that people drop out of school because they lack motivation and/or have big problems that makes them drop out. I know too many people that drop out because they dont like doing the work or get pregnant and now have different priorities.

  • Most kids drop out of high school because they are not motivated.

  • raimundo

    The biggest reason is because they dont find it efficient to graduate and make a living off a high school diploma. Also that they dont have the resources to go. I do know someone the dropped out and i think he did it because he didn’t find it good enough to get anything from it.

  • Mackinzie Castillo

    I think people drop out because they find school to be the wrong place for them.

  • Saadiqah

    I have friend who dropped out because her parents never graduates high school and she had to work. I believe students drop out because of work and not being interested in school.

  • River Motley

    The biggest reason people drop out is their occupation has nothing to gain from school.

  • Vivian

    The major cause of high school drop out, is not getting the support and care they need in order to succeed for graduation. A good family friend of mines dropped out bc he wasn’t motivated and just decided to work with his dad.

  • Oscar T

    I think a lot of students drop out because of not enough influence and they aren’t very motivated.

  • Nelson

    The reason that kids drop out is because the k-12 school system is a linear system that offers little flexibility.

  • Mohammed

    Some students drop out because they have more important priorities that will benefit them more and help them survive.

  • Bertagnole

    I think kids drop out because they think it will be easier of fill out their GED outside of school or because they need the time to work to support their families. I know some one who dropped out of school, because he hated high school and decided that it would be easier for him to work fulfill his requirements from home.

  • Edward

    My mom dropped out of school so i think i have first hand on a dropout’s perspective. She dropped out because she felt that highschool was unneccasary and she already had a minimum wage job so she felt like she didnt need highschool.

  • Shainah Alcorn

    I think the mature drop outs is girl getting pregnant and having to drop out. I say that because my friend was only 17 had a baby and didn’t graduate from high school and right now it is very difficult for her. The caused of her drop out was because she had the baby and didn’t want to get a abortion

  • Karla Xochicale

    the main reason why people drop out of high school is because girl teens keep on getting pregnant, so they decide to drop out to raise their baby, thats why I feel like the african american and hispanics percentage are high. Yes I know many people that they drop out for this reason family and friends.

    • Kate Trimlett

      Fortunately Berkeley High School has the Vera Casey Center so teens can get free daycare and continue to attend school.

  • Austin Davison

    i believe the rate for drop outs are significant because of low income families get struggle and impacts everyone within the family.I know someone who has dropped out and the cause was he gave up because school was getting to stressful on top of all the commotion and drama in his family that was stressful enough as is.

  • Brenda Alejo

    I believe the reason of students dropout from high school because they believe that they are not smart enough, their family need help with money issue or feel that not ready to go to college. I know someone in my family was dropout.

  • aria

    i think this is really good because there are a lot of kids that just drop out of school and some make it but some don’t so i think it is really great that they are doing something for these kids and i wish or hope that they bring something like this out here to California.

  • NiguelV5(West Jeff)

    My personal opinion on why most high school students don’t make it to graduation is because of the environment or the community the high school scholars are surrounded by has a negative impact on the students out of school. On the other behalf some scholars are being cyber bullied over the internet by others which is unfair for the students to concentrate on their education because they’re loosing focus from their school work. Actually I’ve known some scholars from dropping out of high school personally. The reason why they have dropped out of high school was because of the people they surrounded themselves with by doing negative things far as using drugs, stealing, breaking into house, and others things that can effect an average high school student that’s my opinion on why most high school students don’t get a chance to make it to graduation.

  • T Mark

    I believe that many kids drop out of high school for a number of reasons. 1. Often kids are mislead by thier school, teacher, or counselors and end up inelligable to graduate so they just give up and drop out. 2. Kids often believe they can make it in other ways. Maybe they think they can play in the NBA or be the next Brad Pitt so why go to school? millions of dollars are gonna start pouring in soon anyway. or 3. They just don’t care. The effort of school is a lot scarier than the thought of working an easy job at a convenience store. I have not experienced any of these things but i have seen them among friends and it is always hard to watch somebody lose the drive to finish out high school. I hope nobody has to experience anything like dropping out of high school.

  • Britneyrenae

    I don’t know anyone who dropped out , I think that they don’t get the attention they need & give up because they don’t feel like anyone cares . Or they get caught up with the wrong crowed

  • Geoffrey

    I think a lot of kids drop out of school because of outside pressures. Maybe they have to hold a job to support their family or they have a kid they have to support.

  • Ashley

    I think a lot of students don’t graduate because of personal reasons like family issues, drug use, or teenage pregnancy. I know a girl who used to be in every one of my classes. She was very friendly and also had good grades. A few months later she got pregnant and ended up dropping out. I guess some people can’t handle their personal situation and school at the same time. Some sacrifices had to be made and some people just choose to give up their high school diploma.

  • KC

    If I’m not mistaken, the California high school curriculum is notable for its extreme difficulty, and is generally regarded as the toughest school system in the entire USA – almost on par with East Asia! If you know someone from California who had a 4.0 GPA in high school, you can rest assured that it did not come easy. I think a lot of students are overwhelmed by just how packed the curriculum is, and how utterly challenging the subjests are. You have to get exceptionally good marks in order to make it into any worthwhile subject, and from there you have to cross the very plains of hell in order to get something the universities would even consider. They throw a high volume of new content at you day in and day out, and Californian teachers are exceptionally strict when it comes to marking. There’s not a lot of grade inflation down there, that’s for damn sure.

    That’s why so many kids dropout in California. High school down there is just too damned hard.


Matthew Green

Matthew Green produces and edits The Lowdown, KQED’s multimedia news education blog, an online resource for educators and the general public. He previously taught journalism at Fremont High School in East Oakland, and has written for numerous local publications, including the Oakland Tribune and San Francisco Chronicle. Email:; Twitter: @KQEDlowdown

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