LatinaLista — It's estimated that there are 6.2 million high school dropouts in the nation. Contrary to what some say, it's the high school dropouts who are fueling the rise in our prison populations according to a new study.
Consequences of Dropping out of High School: Joblessness & Jailing for High School Dropouts & The High Cost for Taxpayers details how while young Black high school dropouts are disproportionately represented in the penal and juvenile detention system, the problem cuts across racial lines.
Male dropouts of all races were 47 times more likely to be incarcerated than their peers of a similar age who had graduated from a four-year college or university.
An earlier report examining the dropout crisis found that of the 6.2 million high school dropouts, the vast majority are male, Black and Latino. The report's authors recommend that instead of expanding prisons with new facilities, there should be more investment into programs that keep dropouts in school.
However, the findings of the study reflect two realities that exist in the Latino community: Latino students drop out to go to work or stay home because they're pregnant.
The report's authors uncovered the dismal job numbers of high school dropouts but when those numbers are broken out by ethnicity, it's a surprise:
More than half -- 54 percent -- of the nation's dropouts ages 16 to 24 were jobless on average during 2008. Black dropouts experienced the highest jobless rates at 69 percent followed by Asians at 57 percent and Whites at 54 percent. Hispanic dropouts had the lowest jobless rates at 47 percent, reflecting the higher employment rate of young Hispanic immigrants.
This information reflects what has long been known to happen among Latino youth, especially immigrant families. Most Latino boys don't drop out of school to hang out on street corners -- they do it to help provide for their families.
This reason is very hard to combat when trying to convince students that there is value in staying in school. When it comes down to a difference between helping feed the family and keeping a roof overhead, immediate need always wins out.
What's needed to help with this situation is to provide flexible schedules to accommodate students who are balancing full-time jobs with school. Also, there must be an understanding with area employers that school comes first for their high school-age employees.
School districts can create a special recognition award and/or publish a list that identifies student-friendly employers. Such a list could be published in the local newspaper with the added incentive that these businesses would probably experience greater patronage from the community because of their inclusion on the list.
Also, greater effort from the community or school district should be made to see that high-risk students have Internet access at home in order to take online courses and/or complete and turn in assignments via e-mail.
Another reality in the Latino community is that those young Latinas who get pregnant and drop out of school, usually never get beyond a GED, if even that.
Nearly 38 percent of young female dropouts ages 16 to 24 were mothers, the highest percentage compared to their peers still enrolled in high school or college or with high school or college degrees. Young high school dropouts were nearly 9 times as likely to have become single mothers as their counterparts with undergraduate college degrees.
There are school districts that have created programs tailored to help young Latina mothers stay in school and finish their education.
During a conference call with representatives from the National Women's Law Center discussing promising practices to improve Latinas' graduation rates, Dr. Mary Jane Garza, Assistant Superintendent of West Oso School District in Corpus Christi, Texas explained how her school district has turned around the drop out numbers of young Latina mothers.
Dr. Garza feels the key to any successful intervention program is to analyze what policies are in place and if they include tracking the students -- finding out why they leave school, why they are absent and if they transfer to another school district, making sure they arrive.
Dr. Garza said that her staff in talking to the students found that they needed transportation, child care and a flexible school schedule to be successful in staying in school.
The authors of the Consequences of Dropping Out report recommend that there be a national re-enrollment strategy as part of the nation's education agenda.
Latina Lista also suggests that the age of the student also be taken into account and that educators be sensitive to the fact that some students may be over the traditional age for a particular grade level which adds to the embarrassment and feeling that school is not the place they want to be.
In these cases, a specialized curriculum should be implemented to get students either at grade level or in a routine where they will not just experience academic success but on their way to a successful future.