Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Tackling the Dropout Problem

More Latino students are completing high school these days, but dropout rates continue to be a major issue for this community.

According to a report from the National Center for Education Statistics, among those who were 18 to  24 years of age and not currently enrolled in high school, 75.5 percent of Latinos had completed high school in 2008, compared to 95.5 percent for Asian/Pacific Islanders, 94.2 percent for whites and 86.9 percent for blacks. The numbers were even lower for foreign-born Latinos, only 59.8 percent of whom had completed high school.

In addition, Latino males had lower completion rates than their female counterparts, with 78 percent of Latina girls completing high school compared to only 73 percent of boys.

So, what are schools doing to stem the dropout rate?

A new report from the National Center for Education Statistics offers a good place for reporters exploring that question.

According to the report, which surveyed schools about dropout prevention services offered in the 2010-2011 school year, high schools offer more dropout prevention services and programs than elementary or middle school. For example, 67 percent of high schools offer tutoring services, compared to 75 percent of elementary schools and 79 percent of middle schools. The numbers drop even farther for guided study hall or academic support, with 70 percent of high schools offering those services, compared to only 36 percent of elementary and 63 percent of middle schools.

In addition, only 20 percent of elementary schools and 44 percent of middle schools offer alternative programs, compared to 76 percent of high schools.

Since research shows that early achievement in lower grades is often a predictor of long-term student success, lack of services for struggling students in elementary and middle school years could be a factor in dropout rates.

The report also found that few districts offer students help in transitioning from one level to another. For example, only 10 percent of districts offer an assigned student mentor to help students move between elementary and middle school, and only 20 percent offer a student mentor to help in the jump between middle school and high school. Only 24 percent of districts offer advisement classes for the elementary-to-middle school shift, and only 40 percent have advisement classes to help with the middle-to-high school adjustment.

Districts may also be falling short in trying to identify potential dropouts, with more than one-third of districts relying mainly on three factors: academic failure, truancy or excessive absences, and behavior that leads to suspension or expulsion. Far fewer districts look at learning disabilities, teen pregnancy, involvement with the criminal justice or children protective systems as warning signs.

What are your school districts doing to address the dropout problem? How do they determine which students are at risk and what services do they offer those students? Take a look at the success rate of the dropout prevention programs in your district. Do they match the needs of the students?