California's Eighth Grade Blues

California's high school dropout rate is not a new problem.

But new data shows the dimensions of the problem -- one-fifth of would-be members of California's Class of 2010 didn't graduate -- and offers this unpleasant insight: the dropout problem begins before high school.

The data, which is being closely watched because it is based on a new system with individual codes for students, shows that about 17,000 members of the Class of 2010 dropped out at the eighth grade level.

That's frightening, and not only because of the diminished life prospects for those who drop out. California badly needs to produce more college graduates -- we could be short one million college graduates for our expected 2025 economic needs, according to the Public Policy Institute of California -- and it's an awful long way from the eighth grade to college.

Bridging that gap will require policy changes and money, and California's broken governing and budget systems aren't adept at producing either.

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