The most frustrating part of the lack of action on the dropout crisis by the Fresno Unified School District is that the school system has been alerted to this problem many times over the past decade. Its reluctance to act is long-standing policy.
The growing dropout problem has been cited by the Fresno County grand jury, and nationally by Johns Hopkins University, which labeled most high schools in the district as "dropout factories." In 2007, The Bee's opinion pages did an extensive report on the issue, and offered solutions, including creating several vocational high schools to meet the needs of students not on the college track. But the problem was mostly ignored by Fresno Unified.
Now in a comprehensive four-part series that ran in The Bee last week, we learn that the district not only has done little to solve the crisis, but has even worked against those who have offered to help. Superintendent Michael Hanson and the school board are responsible for the lack of action. The administration and the voter-elected trustees are joined at the hip on this issue and cannot deflect responsibility.
The dropout series by reporter Tracey Scharmann concluded on Wednesday by offering several solutions. While the dropout problem likely will never be fully eliminated, we know that Fresno Unified's choices have allowed the crisis to grow. Scharmann's series was an indictment of a cumbersome school district that too often is unwilling to deviate from the status quo.
The stunning thing about this issue is the district has part of the solution already operating -- Duncan Polytechnical High School and the Center for Advanced Research and Technology. These programs offer students vocational and career education in conjunction with academic courses.
Students attending career and vocational programs are less likely to drop out. It's time for Fresno Unified to make bold changes in its offerings, and consider turning many of its traditional high schools into Duncan-type schools.
Unfortunately, this is a concept that's been resisted by Fresno administrators, who remain locked into maintaining a traditional high school curriculum. They have reluctantly suggested tweaking the high schools to add career and technical courses. But so far, they've blocked either converting a current high school to career/vocational education or building a new one.
This is what we said in a 2007 editorial: "By any measurement, students attending Duncan and its cousin, the Center for Advanced Research and Technology, are scoring well. These schools meet the needs of some of our riskiest students. So why not duplicate those successful models today -- not 18 years from now?"
Many blame the parents for their children dropping out of school, and that's a big part of the problem. If all parents were engaged in their children's education, they all would perform better. But that's not going to happen, so it falls on the school district to attack the problem more aggressively.
We hope the latest dropout series isn't ignored by educators and other community leaders. That's been the Fresno pattern for too long. It's time for our community to say its unacceptable for our high schools to be dropout factories.
Do we have the will to act, or are we going to let another generation of students go into the streets without high school diplomas?