According to a study recently released by the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University, high-school graduation rates in California are almost 20 percent less than those officially reported by the California Department of Education.
While the state data show 87 percent of high-school students graduating in 2002, the Harvard study says the graduation rate was 71 percent.
The California Department of Education does not appear to be challenging the data that Harvard is reporting. The state's data seem to ignore the fact that many kids simply drop out of school, generally between the ninth and 10th grades. These dropouts often get conveniently reported by schools simply as transfers.
The Los Angeles Unified School District consists of 782 schools with 742,000 students who are mostly from poor homes. Sixty percent of the schools in the district have at least 80 percent of their students from low-income families, as measured by the number qualifying for free or subsidized school lunches.
Given that education is the principal predictor of future earning power, we are looking here at a classic cycle of poverty. Poor kids incapable of taking advantage of the single resource available to them - education - that can change their lives.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, as of 1999, the earnings of full-time workers without a high-school degree were 77 percent the earnings of those with high-school degrees and 45 percent of those with bachelor's degrees. The gap between education and earnings widens over time. Back in 1975, those without high-school degrees earned 90 percent of those with high-school degrees and 58 percent of those with bachelor's degrees.
Not only are inner-city high schools factories of hopelessness, but as society becomes more complex, with increasing demands for an educated work force, the hole just gets deeper for kids, overwhelmingly black and Hispanic, who are not getting educated.
The No Child Left Behind Act puts performance pressure on non-performing schools to both improve test scores and graduation rates - or face sanctions.