Nearly one-quarter of American high school students drop out before they graduate. In Oakland, the problem is even worse: more than 35 percent of high school students in the city don’t reach graduation. Dropouts are exposed to an uncertain future with higher rates of crime, poverty and health problems than their peers with diplomas. In a special live broadcast from Oakland’s Castlemont High School, we discuss the dropout challenge with educators and students.

Aryn Bowman, acting principal for East Oakland Schools of the Arts, one of three "small schools" on the campus of Castlemont High School
Edson Gonzalez, student, age 17, at the Castlemont Business and Information Technology School
AlyKhan Boolani, 10th grade math and world history teacher and "school culture leader" at East Oakland School of the Arts
Sagnicthe Salazar, restorative justice and school culture coordinator at the Castlemont Business and Information Technology School

  • Gerald Fnord

    We have a dropout problem because our society really does not value education—see how often the current president is mocked for being a ‘perfessor’, and good grades and an interest in learning are a ticket to hatred from nearly every other student.  Parents don’t value education either, save as a ticket to a better job.  (There are many exceptions to this, particularly among the remnants of the old New England upper class and some less Americanised ethnic types, but let’s face facts:  everyone knows that one is supposed to say that one values education, but our actual hearts can be found where our treasure is….)

    (What do we value?  Looks, notoriety, sporting ability, high birth, willingness to cut throats in law or finance or the corporate heights…. How can we know this?—because those are the individuals me make [or let stay] wealthy, that is to say unafraid of the future.)

    This wouldn’t be so much of a problem were children and young adults not fairly rational actors—but they are, or not much less os than adults, and when they see something given a low value they act accordingly.

    • jodi

      I wouldn’t make such hasty generalizations… President Obama hasn’t done anything to help our failing education. He still has the executive order “no child left behind” in place. He’s no different than any other politician, excluding Barbara Lee.   

      You’re right though: our government and society doesn’t respect education. They fear “socialized education.” E.g., my GF was on the phone last week trying to get food stamps (we’re both in college) when the lady on the phone explained that in order to get food stamps as a student, you have to work a MINIMUM of 20 hours a week. To paraphrase the woman at the food stamp office, “We don’t want you to get a free ride in school, otherwise that would be socialized education. We don’t want that.” I’m a full time student w/ a 4.0 GPA . There’s no way I could work 20 hours or more a week and maintain my GPA.Anyway, it comes from the top–this disrespect of education. The whys are another story altogether. But, I truly believe it’s time for we-the-people to work together as a community in order to build support for every under privileged student, or those who are falling through the cracks, so to speak. We can’t wait for government anymore–‘eff’ them.

  • Eric

    The elephant in the room in this discussion is the high percentage of Oakland high school students who come from single parent households, or two parent households don’t do their part to make sure their children show up to school on time, do their homework, etc.  What is being done to ensure that parents do their part to resolve the dropout crisis? 

    • Jonathan

      It is dangerous to presume that parents have the capacity to help their children in the way you expect.  Many parents are likely working more than one job, focused on paying bills, etc.  Parents of lower income youth and second language learners often don’t have the education or cultural resources to help their students in the same way white middle class parents do. Most parents care deeply about their children and their success, and are doing the best they can.

      I agree that parents should be encouraged to be more involved in their students lives, but placing full responsibility on parents who are also underprivileged and struggling is ignorant and 

      • Eric

        I wasn’t suggesting that 100% of the blame should be assigned to parents.  I would just point out that all of the challenges you describe applied to many of the immigrants who came to the U.S. a century ago, yet somehow they overcame those barriers and many of them thrived.  I am suggesting that there are deeply embedded cultural attitudes among parents and kids today that won’t be resolved simply by throwing more money at the dropout problem.  Note that public schools in New York, New Jersey, and the District of Columbia have been spending more than 50% or more per student than California schools for the past 2 decades, yet the last time I looked their dropout rates look pretty bad too.

        • Jonathan

          Eric – I did put words in your mouth there with the “full responsibility” bit. Apologies.

          I’m curious to hear more about your ideas.  What cultural attitudes among parents do you think are causing problems? What do you think causes them?  What would be good solutions to changing such cultural values?

          My understanding is that most parents, especially those of immigrant children, are deeply invested in their childrens’ success.  At the same time, I think we need to be careful about making broad generalization about cultural groups and their values and attitudes.

          • Eric

            Among the low income Hispanic population, social scientists have observed  that while these are very hard working folks, education is often not highly valued among the parents, and this attitude is often transmitted to their children.  The same problem applies to many in the African-American community.  This is a topic of frequent dicussion among those African-American professionals who have made it to the upper middle class. A number of foundations are trying to change this, I hope they succeed.

          • jodi

            Are you sure about that? I’ve read differently. I just read Colorblind by Tim Wise. He paints a very different picture about these two “groups” of people in regard to education. In fact, he makes a convincing argument that it’s white people who don’t respect education. Do a search on youtube “why college is a waste of time” and you’ll see more white people on there than any other. I don’t mean to call you out. 

            The problem is deeper than what has been discussed (on forum)–the (school) pipeline to prison that’s in place in this country is apparent, and it’s real. There’s a lot of corruption happening that keeps certain groups of kids on a direct path to prison–deliberately. Prisoners are the new slaves. Racism is a big deal in this country, and it is a huge factor here as well. 

    • Joyce

      WIth all due respect Eric, I agree with you to a point, but I know from personal journey that the problem is more “out of the box” than parents. I grew up in East Oakland with a single mother who worked two jobs and went to school so she definitely didnt have time to make sure I did my homework and I never did do my homework. However, I passed all of my classes because hardly any of my educators had classroom management skills and they were happy that I was one of the few students who respected them as adults even though they did not have my respect as an educator (hence, the lack of homework) so they “passed” me. 

      I have been an educator for over 7 years – in and outside of America and have dealt with (literally) ALL TYPES of pupils: pre-schoolers to University level, Special Education, ESL, Detention Centers/ Group Homes, After School Programs, Psychiatric Wards and I KNOW that as an educator the first thing I need to do – no matter WHAT the class or age range, is set a standard and a human agreement between me and my students. This agreement can take weeks to perfect but it if it is centered around respect and education, and if I do my job (LISTEN to my students – not what they are saying but what they cannot say due to ignorance and address that ignorance) then we will all learn something.

      In Oakland most of my educators were burnt out. They were not from oakland and they had seen too much that they didnt understand and was trying to change before they truly understood it. None of the children respected them, and none of the children should have. Children are allowed and should be expected to behave in ignorance and foolishness. Educators must prove their title. They must educate, regardless.

  • Davidsortino

    I am a psychologist who consults at various juvenile halls in Northern California. Most of my work has to do with defining learning styles and multiple intelligences. Over the years my assessment of offenders who are mostly high school drop outs test out as indiv. who would succeed in professions that are more kinesthetically  oriented. About 75 % for boys and 70% for girls. Instead of sticking kids in classrooms that have little meaning to their true intelligence why not create a vocational high schools. They still can get the arts and the academics but the focus will be on a child gifted kinesthetically. All learning must first go through the heart – find he passion and you find the genius. Dr. David Sortino. You can go to my column at Santa Rosa Press Democrat for my articles. 

  • Joe in Oakland

    About your guest student who wants to get a job:
    –It used to be there were more technical programs for those who wanted to go out and get a job like your guest.  However Academics started looking down on Blue Collar jobs and cut most California tech programs.  Now students who want a skilled job have to wait for community college (this means more school is needed for somebody who doesn’t want more school).The model of college or nothing is failed and it is time to go back to having technical school alternatives.

  • sc

    I was just watching the documentary, “Waiting for Superman” last night and all of this really resonates. I can’t stress enough the need for the presence of strong adult role models that can nurture kids. Due to social pressure and external issues at home, the teen years can seem difficult. Schools should facilitate an outlet for children that helps to reinforce positivity and how vital education is.

  • Natalupe2000

    I live in Oakland and i can tell you that a big problem comes in with the surroundings these kids live in, having to fear walking down the streets and watching your back every step is not healthy. These kids look to having to take care of themselves, the parents are usually working all day and by the time they get home they are too tired to speak to their children.Children see programs being cut in schools as them not being important. More money for programs in schools would help out these kids develop skills that they don’t know they have, i do agree that parent participation is very important, but i can thank a few teachers that i have had in the future for who i am, and the MESA program that taught me there was more to the world than Oakland. 

  • Hxpl

    The comments I’ve heard so far seems to focus on the fact that going to school has only one benefit: the knowledge you learn.  but going to school has many more benefits:  the social skills (learning how to deal with your peers), and the disciplines of doing something you don’t like.  As any work adults can tell you, some days you like your job, some days you don’t (and there can be a variety of reasons why you don’t like for job on those days).  Kids need to learn this during school, and drop outs may not get another opportunity to learn about it..

  • merideew13

    What opinions do the guests have about the Harlem Children’s Zone model?

  • Lakita

    While I believe that there are many factors for the high drop out rates in Oakland High Schools, I do not believe that one of those reasons is due to single parent households or when there is two parents in the home, who are not living up to their parental duties.  While they are a portion of the problem and not all the time, other things such as, unmotivated teachers, blighted areas, lack of school books, resources, and the continual disregard to the need for high performing curriculum to spark the curosity of Oakland high schoolers. 

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