“WE CAN’T be a great global city,” says Antonio Villaraigosa, “if we lose half of our workforce before they graduate from high school.” The hyper-energetic mayor of sprawling Los Angeles is stating the obvious. A low graduation rate from the giant Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) feeds through into fewer skilled workers, more criminals and every social ill in America’s second-biggest city, from drug abuse to broken families.
And the rate is low indeed. According to a study last year by Harvard’s Civil Rights Project, only 45.3% of LAUSD students who started ninth grade (ie, senior high school, at the age of 14 or so) graduated four years later from 12th grade; for Latino students, who make up three-quarters of the student body, the rate was a mere 39%. School-district officials dispute the figures, saying they include as dropouts students who have simply moved away, but even their estimate—a dropout rate of around 33%—is unacceptable.