L.A. employers take note: New California Education Department data show that 94,000 students in the class of 2010 dropped out of high school. Of them, 11,000 were from Los Angeles. Perhaps most disturbing is that the state was able to estimate that 17,000 additional students dropped out before they even got to high school. These numbers should serve as an alarm bell for L.A. companies, especially as recent studies warn that many California employers soon may be unable to find enough skilled workers to remain competitive.

If there’s any good news, it’s that we finally have the information needed to end the dropout crisis, thanks to the decadelong quest to get accurate measures of high school graduation rates combined with recent advances in developing early warning indicators for dropping out.

We now know exactly which high schools produce the majority of dropouts. We even know which students in those high schools and their feeder middle schools are signaling that they need help. This knowledge means we can mobilize resources where they are most needed while there is still time to do something about it.

And Los Angeles is positioned to be at the forefront of this effort. Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent John Deasy’s efforts to turn secondary schools into pipelines to postsecondary success, combined with the power of local non-profits, foundations and corporations, have the potential to transform the lives of 10,000 students a year, and 100,000 over a decade. The United Way of Greater Los Angeles, for example, is at the cutting edge of a national United Way effort to cut the dropout rate in half by 2018.

LAUSD and the local United Way recently partnered with Diplomas Now, a proven approach that helps the toughest middle and high schools in America’s largest cities ensure that students graduate ready for college or careers.

Principal Joanne Carrillo at John H. Liechty Middle School calls it a “magic bullet” that has contributed to turning around her school near downtown Los Angeles. Carrillo credits Diplomas Now with helping to boost test scores and student attendance, quell fights and suspensions, and engage hundreds of low-income parents. The secret, she said, is that Diplomas Now “makes the kids feel like everyday heroes. It makes them feel they matter. ”

Warning signs

Our research shows that a sixth-grader with even one of the following warning signs is 75 percent more likely to drop out of high school than his peers: poor attendance, failure in English or math, and poor behavior. Diplomas Now identifies such students early and works with the school to eliminate their problems.

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