Hispanics more likely to drop out of school
SUMMIT COUNTY – A review of Colorado Department of Education and Summit School District data over the past four years shows that, on average, Hispanic students are four times more likely than white students to drop out of high school.
Although whites drop out in higher numbers, the smaller Latino population shows a greater proportion of drop-outs. The disparity is greater for Hispanic and white female students, and overall, the discrepancy varies from year to year – with one year showing that Latinos dropped out proportionally more than seven times more than their Anglo peers.
Most high school officials are aware of the trend – as are education professionals in state government – but the information has not been thoroughly discussed in public or presented to the school board. There are ongoing efforts to address the drop-out phenomenon, however, and district officials hope future programs in the works will do even more to keep all students in school until graduation.
Students are required by law to stay in school until they are at least 16 years old. Overall, Summit High School’s drop-out rate has hovered around 4 percent for the past four years. Compared with other schools around Colorado and the nation, this is an excellent figure, according to educators.
But breaking down the drop-out rate by demographics, data show a different story. In the past four years, 97 white students have dropped out of high school; in the same time, 52 Hispanics dropped out. White students outnumber Hispanics by about 6 to 1 in the general student body, making the percentage of Hispanic drop-outs much higher.
In the 2001-02 school year, for example, there were 17 Hispanic dropouts (nine males and eight females). This represented a 16.7 percent drop-out rate for Hispanic males that year, and a 14.3 percent drop-out rate for Hispanic females. The drop-out rate for all Hispanics that year was 15.5 percent.
Only 14 white students withdrew from school that year (10 males and four females). That represented a 2.6 percent drop-out rate for white males and a 1.1 percent drop-out rate for white females. White students dropped out at 1.9 percent overall.
Wednesday, high school representatives presented data, including the graduation rate, drop-out rate and the number of Hispanic and white males and females who dropped out during the 2002-03 school year. But in the past four years, the comparative rates of graduation and dropouts for the different ethnic populations has not been presented.
“It is an issue,” said Debbie Luckett, a Summit High School counselor. “And there are a lot of different variables that go into it.”
Families from other countries often bring a different attitude toward school, teachers have learned. In the United States, parents are highly involved in school events, whether academic or extracurricular; not so in many countries.
There is also the relative value of school and work. Luckett said many students who drop out seek work to support their family, either here in Summit County or in their native country.
Students of all ethnic backgrounds might also believe that school programs do not benefit them or that they do not fit in, whether because of their learning style, language difficulties or their interests.
“Essentially, what I try to get across to students who are thinking about dropping out is that they’re not thinking long-term,” Luckett said. “They think they can do what they want right now, they can go to work instead of sitting in school. They don’t realize that if they stay in school, they’re likely to earn even more money in the future.”
The high drop-out rate for minorities is a statewide and nationwide issue. According to Don Watson, head of the Colorado Department of Education’s research and evaluation unit, educators have been aware of the problem for a long time. But, he said, “fixing it is another thing.”
Watson said drop-out statistics are part of a school’s accreditation process and schools must have a plan for improving high drop-out rates. But there are so many factors that lead children to drop out of school, he said, that there probably isn’t a “magic bullet” to reverse the trend.
One of the best tools that schools have for improving the graduation rate is follow-up research. At Wednesday’s school board meeting, Summit High representatives said they were able to improve last year’s graduation rate by 5 percent simply by tracking down students.
“That year, I was the counselor for the senior class,” Luckett said. “I knew those kids pretty well, and just by making some phone calls I was able to find out that this one had gotten his GED or this one had re-enrolled somewhere else.”
Luckett said, in the future, counselors will do more following up on students.
That follow-up should be easier, Watson said, once policy based on new legislation is ironed out. Last year, for the first time, students received a statewide school identification number. The statewide ID will be used to track students’ achievements over the course of their school careers, and it will also help counselors keep track of students who move out of the district. The ID numbers won’t help much if the students leave Colorado for another country, though.
An innovative partnership could help keep some of these students in school in Summit County. The school district and Colorado Mountain College have worked together in the past to create new opportunities for students, and talks continue between district and college administrators.
Following concerns aired by parents that seniors had too much free time or were taking easy classes after completing their graduation requirements, the high school and CMC teamed up to offer the Supergrad program. Students can now take classes for college credit at the high school during the regular school day.
With the construction of a new Silverthorne Elementary School, district officials are trying to decide what to do with the old building. Former Summit superintendent Wes Smith and former CMC dean Tim Hoopingarner had discussed for years the possibility of a career and vocational training center in the building. That conversation continued Wednesday at the school board meeting with new superintendent Lynn Spampinato and new CMC dean Leah Bornstein. Although no decisions have been made, educators have discussed the possibility that the building could be used to begin training high school students for careers in firefighting, health care or trades.
“I think something like that would go a long way to helping us retain students and benefit the community,” Summit High School Principal Frank Mencin said at the school board meeting.
Reid Williams can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 237, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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