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Silent Epidemic

In SDUSD, some 18% of our students drop out. That number includes one in every four of our Latino students and more than one in five of our African-American students. A national report, The Silent Epidemic, describes the individual and community impact:

  • Dropouts are much more likely than their peers who graduate to be unemployed, living in poverty, receiving public assistance, in prison, on death row, unhealthy, divorced, and single parents whose children also later drop out.
  • Our communities and nation lose productive workers and incur higher costs associated with increased incarceration, health care, and social services.
006-07 Dropouts in SDUSD, Grades 9-12
Students Rate (%)
Total 1762 17.9
Latino 965 24.7
African American 307 21.7

Source: California Department of Education

The California Dropout Research Project reports that in 2005 almost one out of every four adults in California—more than 4 million persons—had not graduated from high school. What is this epidemic costing our children and every taxpayer in California? Here are the facts:

  • High school graduates earn more than $290,000 over a lifetime than a high school dropout.
  • Two-thirds of all high school dropouts will use food stamps during their working life.
  • High school graduation reduces the violent crime rate by 20%.
  • 60% of African-American male high school dropouts will spend time in prison during their lives.

Why students drop out

The reasons why students drop out vary widely. Here are some of the major ones.

Top Five Reasons for Dropping Out Statistics from The Silent Epidemic

Reasons National %
Classes were not interesting 47
Missed too many days and could not catch up 43
Spent time with people who were not interested in school 42
Had too much freedom and not enough rules in my life 38
Was failing in school 35

Top 10 Reasons 10th Graders Dropped Out: 2002-2004 Statistics from the Education Longitudinal Study as cited by the California Dropout Research Project

Reasons National % California %
Missed too many school days 44 46
Thought it would be easier to get GED 41 23
Getting poor grades/failing school 38 41
Did not like school 37 19
Could not keep up with schoolwork 32 35
Got a job 28 38
Was pregnant 28 22
Thought it impossible to complete course requirements 26 24
Could not get along with teachers 25 23
Could not work at same time 22 22


What we're doing to ensure that our students are graduates, not dropouts

Given the multiple reasons why students drop out, San Diego Unified has initiated a range of strategies in three interrelated categories:

  • Making dropout prevention a top district and community priority. Prevention starts in the earliest grades and ranges from providing engaging academics to stepping in with intensive support when students show signs of being at risk.
  • Spotlighting the crucial importance of attendance, especially in the earliest grades. Students can't learn if they are not in school. Our youngest students are building the foundation for all future learning.
  • Finding and recovering high school students who have stopped showing up at school. These students need to be revitalized with second-chance options and intensive, one-to-one support.


California Dropout Research Project, Gervitz Graduate School of Education, UC Santa Barbara.

The Silent Epidemic: Perspectives of High School Dropouts , by John M. Bridgeland, John J. DiIulio, Jr. and Karen Burke Morison, Civic Enterprises, March 2006.