We have long complained about the lack of commitment by public school administrators and school trustees to reducing the embarrassingly high dropout rate. High school dropout factories not only have been allowed to flourish, but the education lobby has manipulated dropout figures to make it appear that the problem isnt serious.
Now we have a case study of a school system that has become a haven for habitual truants. In a four-part series that began Sunday in The Bee, reporter Tracey Scharmann exposes the Fresno Unified School Districts callous attitude toward students on the dropout track.
Early-warning systems that are supposed to alert educators and parents to the problem are ignored. In addition, official truancy and dropout records dont match up with whats actually happening on the school campuses.
For example, Scharmanns series reveals that while 66% of the student body at Fresno High School qualified as habitual truants last year, the district reported the official truancy rate at 31%. Fresno Unified lives in an alternate reality when it comes to reporting the number of truants and dropouts.
Given the dismal dropout performance by Fresno Unified, youd expect Superintendent Michael Hanson to at least defend his operation. Instead, he refused to talk with the reporter and set up several roadblocks to getting public records on the dropout and truancy problem. Concealing Fresnos truancy and dropout information from the public is appalling.
Another failing comes from the office of Fresno County Superintendent of Schools Larry Powell. He confirmed to Scharmann that he does not press districts to file the required annual School Attendance Review Board reports, which track how many truants are referred to SARB for help.
Fresno is one of the counties thats not in line with the Education Code in regards to truancy, said David Kopperud, the state Department of Education chairman for SARB.
The dropout problem affects a community well beyond its classrooms, and must be attacked on many fronts. But its difficult to develop a workable strategy when school officials are masking the seriousness of the issue.