U.S. Report Tracks High Dropout Rate Among Hispanics
While the school dropout rates of some minorities have fallen over time, the rates for Hispanic students have remained stubbornly high, according to a report released last week by the U.S. Department of Education.
In 1994, the most recent year for which figures are available, the annual dropout rate for Hispanic students was more than double the rate for African-Americans and 3 1/2 times that for non-Hispanic whites, the study concludes.
With Hispanics poised to become the largest ethnic minority in the United States--projections indicate they will make up one in five Americans by 2050--the dropout statistics take on added significance. Hispanics now make up about 13.5 percent of the nation's school-age children, according to the Education Department.
Poverty, lack of English skills, and recent immigrant status may contribute to the alarming figures, said Eugene E. Garcia, one of the report's authors and the dean of the graduate school of education at University of California, Berkeley. But even when those factors are taken into account, he added, Hispanics are still more likely to drop out of school than non-Hispanic classmates with similar backgrounds.
"It's a tough issue to grab hold of," said Mr. Garcia, who is a former director of the Education Department's office of bilingual education and minority-languages affairs.
But rather than ponder why Hispanics' high dropout rates persist, the authors urged policymakers to take action to bring the rates down.
'Schools Failing Kids'
The Clinton administration, which has introduced a flurry of new education proposals with its proposed 1999 federal budget, last week seemed happy to oblige.
In a White House ceremony Feb. 2, Vice President Al Gore announced a $600 million "Hispanic education action plan," which includes $150 million for dropout-prevention efforts and proposed increases for programs that help at-risk students prepare for college. Not all $600 million is exclusively for Hispanics, since the sum includes increases for the massive Title I program, which provides educational services for poor students from all backgrounds.
The appeal of such proposals for Hispanic voters clearly was not lost on leaders like Raul Yzaguirre, the president of the Washington-based National Council of La Raza, one of the largest advocacy groups for Latinos.
"Improving educational opportunities is the single most popular issue in the Latino community," Mr. Yzaguirre said in a statement. "Those in Congress who would thwart investments in education in the name of 'budget constraints' do so at their own peril."
Last week's report, which includes recommendations and information on successful dropout-prevention programs, is the product of a seven-member task force of academics convened in 1995 by Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley. Mr. Riley's action was urged by Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., who hails from a state where 47 percent of schoolchildren are Hispanic.
"This is not about kids failing at school, it's about schools failing kids," said a spokeswoman for Sen. Bingaman, who has introduced a national dropout-prevention bill. The spokeswoman underscored the report's conclusion that many Hispanic students attend schools that do not hold high expectations for students and are overcrowded and poor.
The dropout problem is a familiar one in New Mexico's largest district, Albuquerque, which serves nearly 90,000 students. In an effort to keep children in school, some of the city's high schools have hired home liaisons to work with the families of students who are at risk of dropping out, said Jennifer L. Dunstan, a district spokeswoman. "It's definitely one of our biggest issues," she added.
Although the nation's overall school completion has risen steadily over the past 40 years, the dropout rate for Hispanics has remained at 30 percent to 35 percent, according to the report. In 1994, the nationwide dropout rate was 11.5 percent.