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Knowledge From the Field

Solving California's Dropout Crisis

Published: February 2008

Publisher(s): California Dropout Research Project

Author(s): Rumberger, Russell W.

Funder(s): Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, James Irvine Foundation, Walter S. Johnson Foundation, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

View Report (24 pages; 648KB; PDF)

Area of focus: Low-Performing Schools


The dropout rate that California faces is severe, and implementing dropout prevention programs alone may not solve the problem. The report synthesizes ongoing California Dropout Research Project (CDRP) research to outline the scope, the causes, and the costs of the state's high school dropout crisis. It also proposes a policy agenda to raise the graduation rate, with separate recommendations for the state, districts, and schools. 

Key Findings and/or Recommendations

= The dropout crisis is concentrated within relatively few schools and districts, therefore the state can have an immediate impact by focusing its initial attention on those schools and districts—even in the current, limited budget climate.

Recommendations for the State:

= Fix the accountability system in order to maintain pressure and to allow sufficient time to address the problem.

= Collect and report more useful data on dropouts and improvements in graduation rates.

= Develop high school reform standards and create “lighthouse” districts to implement them in schools with high dropout rates.

= Undertake middle school reform modeled on the same strategies used for high school reform.

= Make strategic investments in other proven dropout prevention strategies, targeting the most disadvantaged students and schools.

= Re-examine state high school graduation requirements.

Recommendations for Districts:

= Mobilize the community to address the dropout problem.

= Adopt proven strategies to keep students in school and support their successful graduation.

= Implement these strategies in all targeted schools through a participatory process with clearly-specified benchmarks, timelines, and outcomes.

= Develop and use data to monitor and modify the implementation plan.

= Partner with outside support organizations to identify and implement strategies.

Recommendations for Schools:

= Create a personalized learning environment for both students and teachers.

= Provide academic and social supports for students.

= Provide rigorous and meaningful instruction.

= Create connections to the real world.

Geographic Focus: California

Subjects/Keywords: Low-performing schools; accountability; at-risk youth, school reform; graduation rate, community organizing

+ Successful strategy
= Observation
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