The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Soaring dropout rates at L.A. schools

Apr 18, 2005

In 2002, only 45% of the public school students in Los Angeles graduated on time, according to a survey done by researchers from several universities. This is an average; the number of graduating students is even lower for schools in poor and working-class neighborhoods. In several inner-city schools, for example, less than one-third of entering ninth graders graduated in four years, the survey found.

No one knows exactly how many students are dropping out because school and district officials don't keep track of students who change schools. In fact, by calling failing students "transfers" rather than "dropouts," administrators try to make the graduation rates look better than they really are. To name an example, Jefferson High, where the survey found a graduation rate of 31%, had reported 45% instead.

Not surprisingly, the schools with the worst graduation rates are also the ones that suffer most from overcrowding. In the city's working-class neighborhoods, where the population has grown rapidly, the district has not built new schools for decades.

Faced with a brewing anger in these neighborhoods, district administrators have lately been pushing the idea of dividing overcrowded schools into smaller units. Many schools have already begun doing this, under such names as "learning centers," "themed programs," "academies" or "houses."

Just as these made-up names suggest, this is nothing but a smokescreen. These "smaller schools" will all exist in the same old, overcrowded facilities, so "smaller schools" will not mean smaller classes or more supplies. To the contrary: as schools supposedly get "smaller," so does California's education budget – which means even more students per teacher and even less supplies. And whatever money is allocated for dividing schools into smaller units, a big chunk of it will end up in the coffers of private companies that run these "learning communities" as "charter schools" – which in turn leaves even less money for the rest of the public schools.

The reality of public schools today shows that this capitalist society is not interested in educating the children of the working class. Whatever tricks or gimmicks the bosses' spin artists may come up with, they cannot hide this cold fact.