LatinaLista — When it comes to finishing high school, it's been long known that Latino students have dismal success rates.
In 2007, the most recent year for available statistics from the National Center for Education Statistics, it was found that Hispanic students had a 21 percent dropout rate versus 8.4 percent for blacks and 5.3 percent for whites.
Those figures are for two years ago. We know the problem has not diminished since then and continues onward, perplexing and frustrating educators, politicians and community advocates.
Unfortunately, it took the Latino dropout rate reaching almost a quarter of the Hispanic student population before anyone decided to start getting innovative in combating the crisis.
In New Mexico, it's worst. The state suffers from a 46 percent dropout rate. New Mexico Governor Bill Richarson must have been really embarrassed over his state's failure rate (the figures were released this week) especially since he went to San Diego last month and happily accepted a rather ironic award from the National Education Association -- America's Greatest Education Governor Award."
It seems he wants to prove that he deserves the award. Today, he announced a new program that aims to bring back to school this year 10,000 dropouts.
What are his bold ideas for educational reform that will keep students in high school?
The $8.9 million effort will use federal stimulus money to make online courses available to dropouts.
The governor also announced the creation of the Office of Hispanic Education at the Public Education Department. The press release said the office will act as a liaison with the state's Hispanic community to address the achievement gap, generally understood to mean the difference in educational outcomes between minority and Anglo students.
The press release also announced three Governor Summits later this year on the Achievement Gap. Each summit will have a separate focus on Hispanic, Native American, and African American student achievement to be held in October, November and December.
"The purpose of the summits is three fold: 1) to call attention to educational challenges, 2) to collaboratively arrive at solutions, and 3) to engage parents and community in the process," the press release said.
Other parts of the plan include online cultural competency training for teachers and the creation of an annual report card for achievement, dropout and graduation rates.
Nothing particularly innovative or helpful to motivate students to stay in school. Not even online courses since it takes self-discipline to stay up with classes that are not a part of a group setting. Something these students already have a hard time with.
Maybe, Gov. Richardson needs to pay attention to the idea the Education Secretary in neighboring Texas is floating around to the state's business community -- Don't hire dropouts!
Texas Education Chief Robert Scott has gone to the Texas Association of Business to ask them to participate in a statewide ban on hiring high school drop outs.
Needless to say, the idea is not very popular.
The business community doesn't like it because it infringes on their cheap workforce. Dropouts don't like it because they need to make money. In fact, a lot of Latino students who do drop out do so because they can't handle the pressure of trying to help their families and go to school.
Others who drop out need to make money and find working towards a weekly or bi-weekly financial reward is more relevant than learning about the Civil War.
While the Texas Education Secretary's idea is bold, it's the kind of innovative jolt that is needed to combat this crisis. I'm not saying that dropouts should not be allowed to work but it's pretty obvious life will be 100 times more difficult for those who don't have the basic kind of education/vocational training that is needed to survive in our changing society.
In the past, there have been stories done on those business owners who took the initiative to instill the importance of education in their young employees. They did this by respecting the importance of education by making sure the kids weren't working late hours, reviewing their report cards and working hand-in-hand with the schools.
There has been talk floating around for years that if education was truly to be reformed we have to scrap the current model and start from scratch to recognize the realities of today's kids.
Summits, penalizing schools for poor performance, standardized tests, making teachers more culturally sensitive don't have the greatest impact or instill the change that is needed. The educational system has to be blown apart and rebuilt in such an innovative way that it excites students to be a part of it and to finish it.
It has to be so bold that people have to first call it crazy, but then realize it has the potential to succeed. It definitely has to be a three-way partnership -- schools, families and businesses.
Yet, the most important part is that the innovation has to start in the area no one worries about -- elementary school. It's the seeds planted in those years that lead to the frustration later.
And among low-income families who depend on their children's labor to sustain the family, here's a radical idea -- give those families a financial incentive to keep their children in high school. If a child drops out, the family loses the money.
It's just an idea. And with so few ideas floating around that blow up the system instead of trying to make the current outdated model work -- it's something to think about.