ST. LOUIS — St. Louis school leaders say they're disappointed with new data showing a dropout rate of 22 percent.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Tuesday on the release of the data for the 2007-08 school year, the biggest increase in the city's dropout rate in five years. It comes at a time when most St. Louis area school districts are seeing steady or declining numbers of dropouts.
Among Missouri districts, only Kansas City's 28 percent dropout rate is worse than the one in St. Louis.
Rick Sullivan, who heads the three-member state-appointed board overseeing the long-troubled St. Louis district, says several steps have been taken to keep kids in school.
"It's a very disappointing piece of information,'' Sullivan said.
Missouri education leaders say they're worried about the state's two urban districts. But they're not certain if the number of dropouts has actually risen or if the data collection system is simply doing a better job of tracking the problem.
For example, in the past, districts sometimes lacked information about whether a student had dropped out or had enrolled in another district.
"We finally have an accurate dropout rate,'' said Jim Morris, spokesman for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. "These numbers are going to be the source of concern in many school districts, and certainly at the state.''
The high dropout rates in St. Louis and Kansas City are "not out of line with what we're seeing nationwide,'' said Daria Hall, a policy analyst for The Education Trust in Washington.
"We have on our hands a dropout crisis nationwide. And it is most profound for low-income communities and communities of color.''
The state data show that the dropout rate at St. Louis high schools ranges from zero at Metro to more than 42 percent at Sumner.
Sullivan said the issue is being addressed. Monitors hired in August have boosted attendance in the city's high schools, he said. The district is enticing students to stay in school with advanced courses. And it operates a high school for dropouts that gets students into courses at Ranken Technical College.