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California's Student-Dropout Rate Falls

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But the dropout rate, last estimated at 29 percent statewide, remains a "critical problem and challenge to us all," Mr. Honig said in testimony before the Assembly's education committee.

To address the problem, the state superintendent announced the establishment of three goals to be met by 1990: that all districts reduce their 1985-86 dropout rate by 25 percent; that districts and county offices of education increase by 25 percent the number of dropouts brought back into the public-education system; and that schools strengthen their "holding power" by developing programs or strategies that improve both the climate in which instruction takes place and its effectiveness.

Special Unit

Mr. Honig also announced the formation of a special unit within the state department of education to coordinate all dropout-prevention and dropout-recovery activities.

The unit, called the High Risk Youth Liaison and Field Services Unit, is currently training a group of specialists who will work with at-risk youths.

This month, the specialists will begin instructing officials of local schools and districts on dropout-prevention strategies.

Mr. Honig said he planned to launch a statewide media campaign to "raise awareness regarding dropouts and high-risk youth." Public-service announcements will be aimed, he said, at dropouts, parents, students in school, and former students who have not completed their education.

The department has arranged to put interested schools and districts in contact with the organizers of successful dropout-prevention programs in the state, he said. It will also give local schools more flexibility in the use of state categorical funds, enabling them to "concentrate their resources in a targeted manner toward the special needs of high-risk youth," he said.

'Declining Trend'

Mr. Honig said that despite conjecture that higher standards and graduation requirements--two elements of the state's 1983 school-reform law--would raise the attrition rate among high-school students, the rate actually shows a downward trend.

The rate peaked at 32 percent in 1980-81, he noted. In 1983-84--the first full year after the reform bill's passage--the attrition rate was down to 29 percent, a 10 percent reduction.

"If the trend continues," Mr. Honig said, "and I am convinced it will, as a result of our expanded initiative in this area, we should reach our target of a 25 percent reduction in the rate by 1990."

Mr. Honig said he believed that the state's reinforced academic curriculum "may offer students the incentive to stay in rather than to drop out" and that "school districts are working hard to impart the curriculum in a meaningful way to all students."

Press for Legislation

Mr. Honig also told the Assembly committee that he would press again for legislation, vetoed this past year by Gov. George Deukmejian, in the following areas:

Data collection on dropouts. "The big, unresolved issue related to dropouts," Mr. Honig said, "is the lack of a common database enabling the problem to be accurately quantified."

Model programs that provide educational services for pregnant students and, after the birth of their babies, encourage them to return to school.

Summer-school funding increases. A recent report by the Assembly's office of research cited the lack of summer school as a contributing factor in the state's high dropout rate. In 1978, when cutbacks under Proposition 13 first forced the system to drop summer school, the statewide dropout rate increased by 5 percent, according to the report.

Without summer programs, Mr. Honig said, students' opportunities to make up credit deficiencies for graduation are "severely limited."

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