Louisiana’s high school graduation rate remains on the bottom rungs of the national ladder — 47th —  and despite this year’s Legislative session being largely focused on public education reforms, curbing the state’s perpetually high rate of dropouts somehow got lost in the shuffle.

According to a 2011 study released by the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana, 8,797 — 17 percent — of the freshmen who entered high school in 2006 dropped out before their 2010 graduation. That figure, known as the Cohort Dropout Rate, is a calculation of the number of freshmen who quit school within a four year period and is considered by experts to be the most accurate way to measure the performance of a state’s public education system.

Looking at the total number of dropouts also is useful in determining the demographics of high school dropouts, but does not take into account the number of students who quit but later return to school.
For Louisiana, 56,000 students dropped out between 2006 and 2010, and of those, the PAR study shows that 59 percent were male and two-thirds were black students.

Louisiana Public Broadcasting, in an attempt to curb the state’s dropout enigma, launched an effort last year to put more of a spotlight on the issue in a program called “Dropout Dilemma: Louisiana’s Education Crisis.” The nonprofit LPB readdressed the issue again recently through a Sept. 21 episode of “Louisiana: The State We’re In.”

Despite slipping through the cracks of this year’s education-focused Legislative session, the dropout issue has definitely not escaped the minds of Lafayette Parish School System officials.

As the percentage of Louisiana’s high school dropouts has steadily inched downward, going from 18.5 percent in 2006/2007 to 16.9 percent for the 2009/2010 school year, the dropout rate among Lafayette Parish students has mirrored that trend, dropping from 20 percent in 2006/2007 to 17.1 in 2009/2010.

Preliminary data for the 2010/2011 school year estimates the dropout rate in Lafayette Parish at 15 percent, just 0.4 percentage points higher than the state average. Local momentum to make an even greater change has grown in recent years, first with the creation in 2009 of the Lafayette Public Education Stakeholders Council — a combination of 13 civic organizations and public entities focused on education reform — followed by the selection of LPSS Superintendent Pat Cooper to lead Lafayette Parish Schools.

A more concerted push is now underway to raise graduation rates, largely among students in north Lafayette’s struggling schools, where poverty is more prevalent and the dropout rate is higher than in other areas of the parish. October’s IND Monthly will further examine the initiative to improve the dropout rate at Northside High School, where a new high school principal, handpicked by Cooper, is using a unique approach in her efforts to erase the stigma that less high school graduates come from north Lafayette.

For the full PAR study, click here.

Watch video coverage from LPB here and here.

District-by-district cohort dropout rates are available here through the state Department of Education’s website.

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