KPCC: Invisible Dropouts: Thousands of California Kids Don’t Get Past Middle School | 89.3 KPCC

Sarah Butrymowicz

Devon Sanford’s mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer when he was in the eighth grade. After barely finishing at Henry Clay Middle School in South Los Angeles, he never enrolled in high school. He spent what should have been his freshman year caring for his mother and waiting for police to show up asking why he wasn’t in school.

No one ever came.

“That was the crazy part,” he said. “Nobody called or nothing.”

Thousands of students in California public schools never make it to the ninth grade. According to state officials, 7th and 8th grade dropouts added up to more than 6,400 in the 2012-13 school year – more than 1,000 in the Los Angeles Unified School District alone.

Like Sanford, many of them just disappeared after middle school and never signed up for high school.

But their numbers are so tiny in comparison to California’s more than 94,000 high school dropouts each year that few school districts are paying attention to middle school dropouts.

One sign of the inattention: a 2009 state law mandating California education officials calculate a middle school dropout rate has gone largely ignored, although districts do publicly report the raw numbers.

California requires students to attend school until they are 18, meaning these young dropouts and their parents are breaking the law and could be fined as a result. But schools often aren’t able to track them down, according to several educators in L.A. Unified.

“Do you devote resources to the kids who are here or not here? I know it sounds really cruel, but out of sight out of mind,” said Linda Guthrie, who teaches English at Thomas Starr King Middle School in Hollywood. “Schools don’t have the resources to go out and find those no shows.”

King, where nearly three-quarters of the students qualify for free- or reduced-priced lunch, had nine dropouts in 2012-13 school year. Like many schools, King relies on robo-calls to inform parents when kids miss school. It has one attendance clerk for 1,500 students, down from four seven years ago.

Recessionary budget cuts have also made it hard for staff to keep track of students at Thomas Edison Middle School, a predominately Hispanic and low-income school in South Los Angeles.

The school has a single full-time employee to crunch attendance numbers for 1,151 students – and call parents when kids don’t show up. The school shares one truancy officer with four other middle schools. In early December, he realized one child had missed three straight weeks of school.

In the 2011-12 school year, five seventh and eighth graders dropped out of Edison.

“I’m happy to say we only have five,” Lua Masumi, community school coordinator who helps set up academic, health and social services for students, said last winter. “But I’m sad we have five.”

Experts said the reasons kids drop out in 7th or 8th grade are similar to the reasons high schoolers give up. They range from problems at home or gang involvement to failing academics and losing interest in their classes. Often it’s a combination.

Melissa Wyatt, executive director of Foundation for Second Chances, a Los Angeles-based community organization that runs educational and mentoring programs for youth, said in some cases, like Sanford’s, parents pulled the children out of school to work or care for younger siblings or elderly relatives.

“Kids are taking care of their grandparents and parents at a younger and younger age,” Wyatt said. She said it’s more prevalent in immigrant communities.

Experts said if one thing will help these kids stay in school, it’s personalized attention. But that doesn’t come cheap. [ … ]

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Blogger’s Note: 

This is the kind of story that drives me up a wall. This story should be making the headlines in the Los Angeles Times and all of the local stations in California.
LAUSD is the second largest school district in the country. While it has suffered from the effects of the Great Recession along with the rest of the country, there is no excuse for this kind of neglect and mismanagement. No child should be unaccounted for by his or her school district or the Department of Social Services. No child should have to bear the burden of giving care to a loved one, without the support of the county and state governments. California has plenty of services available and delivering those services to those who need them should not be an issue.

The number of children who fall through the cracks should be in the tens – not thousands.

This is yet another huge failure of Superintendent John Deasy and all the superintendents in other districts.

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