Why do students drop out of school? We asked that question to four of our teen writers at our annual November roundtable for community leaders, policy wonks, business folks and others. The conversation was moderated by L.A. Times reporter Mitchell Landsberg and Compton School District Principal Dr. Sophia Theoharopoulus.
The unanimous answer to the question was overcrowded classrooms and disengaged teachers. Ernesto spoke with enthusiasm about his charter school with 20-25 students in a class. Locke, his neighborhood high school, has a history of campus violence, alarming drop-out rate and constant turnover of teachers and administrators. Charmaine described moving from Gahr to Cerritos High School, both within blocks of each other. She said there’s less “drama” at Cerritos. I interpreted that to mean fewer fights, smaller classes, students eager to learn and college bound. Patricia dropped out of Compton High school when she struggled with algebra and no one offered her assistance. Her parents weren’t contacted by the district for 40 days. Now, Patricia is successfully completing high school at the small, well run Cesar Chavez Continuation High School and a teacher is providing guidance in her algebra class.
The education crisis will get worse in the next few years. State budget cuts mean larger classes, teacher lay-offs and a dismal future for students on the edge of dropping out. Where will teens without a diploma find a job? How will they pay rent, buy food? Will crime increase in our communities?
For teens to succeed it requires a partnership between parents, teachers and students. Everyone needs to take responsibility.