Equity & Diversity

Report: Higher Hispanic Dropout Rate Persists

By Vaishali Honawar — November 16, 2004 4 min read
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Hispanic students continue to drop out of high school at rates much higher than those for blacks and non-Hispanic whites, a federal study shows.

Those gaps have persisted since 1972, the earliest year cited in the study by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics.

Nearly 9 percent of Hispanics in grades 10 through 12 in the 2000-01 academic year dropped out before the end of the year. By comparison, the rates were 6 percent for black students and 4 percent for non-Hispanic whites.

Asian and Pacific Islander students had the lowest dropout rate for that year, just over 2 percent. The study found that 5 percent of high school students overall who enrolled in October 2000 in grades 10 through 12 dropped out before the end of the school year.

See Also

See the accompanying item,

Chart: Dropout Timeline

The report, released Nov. 4, includes estimates of dropout rates in high schools in 2001, and looks at trends in high school dropout and completion rates for 1972 through 2001.

The report uses U.S. Census data and the Common Core of Data compiled annually by the NCES using information from states on all public schools.

“Despite the importance of a high school education for entry to postsecondary education and the labor market, the status completion rate has shown little change over the last three decades,” the report says, referring to those between the ages of 18 and 24 who have earned a high school diploma or equivalent credential.

Differing Views

Some observers said that the federal findings differ from what their own studies have found.

Jay P. Greene, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, said the New York City-based institute’s research on dropout rates shows the proportion of graduating students in the 2000-01 school year to be about 70 percent, instead of the 86.5 percent cited in the NCES report. Further, he said, the institute’s studies have found that dropout and graduation rates have stagnated since the 1960s, not just since the 1980s, as the NCES report says.

Mr. Greene said the federal report’s numbers are flawed because census data are not collected specifically to measure high school graduation and dropout rates. Also, he said, because the report includes students who go on to get alternative credentials, such as the General Educational Development certificate, in its graduation rates but not in its dropout rates, it ends up showing lower dropout rates and higher graduation rates.

Read the NCES reports: “Dropout Rates in the United States: 2001" and “Educational Attainment of High School Dropouts 8 Years Later.”

A separate NCES study, released last week, found that 63 percent of high school dropouts who had been in 8th grade in 1988 had earned a high school diploma or an alternative credential such as a GED by 2000, eight years after their expected graduation.

Christopher B. Swanson, a research associate at the Washington-based Urban Institute, noted that the census data used by the NCES do not include dropouts in prison and in the military. “And the minority and the poor are disproportionately incarcerated,’’ he said.

“The data also relies upon self-reporting, and people sometimes tend to inflate their own educational accomplishments,’’ said Mr. Greene, who serves on an NCES panel that is studying ways in which data on high school completion can be collected and analyzed more effectively.

David Thomas, an Education Department spokesman, said that the data, however, were “sufficiently reliable to publish.”

The Nov. 4 NCES study says that dropout rates have remained stagnant since the mid-1980s. It points out that states during the same time have increased high school course requirements, and that more states have begun requiring students to pass high school exit exams. But the study does not draw a correlation between the increased accountability measures and the persistence in dropout rates.

Christopher D. Chapman, an Education Department statistician and the author of the NCES report, said there may be a relation between dropout rates and increased testing mandates, but said that is simply a hypothesis.

Tougher Requirements

The study notes under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, states must report graduation rates and demonstrate that schools are making progress on that front.

“Some are concerned that the increased graduation requirements will lead to higher dropout rates,’’ the report says.

Mr. Swanson said that the issue is not as clear-cut as it appears. While more tests create greater pressure on students and could cause them to drop out, the exit exams also put interventions in place which could be improving academic performance, he said.

“Once you put these complex things together, you don’t see a dramatic change,” he said.

The study found that in 2001, 43.4 percent of the Hispanics ages 16 to 24 who were born outside the United States were high school dropouts. Hispanics born in the United States were much less likely to drop out.

Mr. Greene said his research does not show a significant difference in graduation rates for white and Hispanic students. But Mr. Swanson of the Urban Institute said he had found a 25-percentage-point gap between graduation rates for white and Asian/Pacific Islander students, on the one hand, and Hispanic and black students on the other.

There were several reasons for the gap, Mr. Swanson said, including a lack of proficiency in English among recent Hispanic immigrants and the socioeconomic background of Hispanics and African-Americans.

“They have a lot of disadvantages stacked against them,’’ he said.

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A version of this article appeared in the November 17, 2004 edition of Education Week as Report: Higher Hispanic Dropout Rate Persists


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