President Obama outlined a plan today to reduce the high school dropout rate. He deserves kudos for understanding that this educational crisis goes beyond local communities and state jurisdictions, and has serious national implications for the future.
According to the President's statistics:
Every school day, about 7,000 students decide to drop out of school - a total of 1.2 million students each year - and only about 70% of entering high school freshman graduate every year.
Without a high school diploma, young people are less likely to succeed in the workforce. Each year, our nation loses $319 billion in potential earnings associated with the dropout crisis.
The bulk of the dropouts are low-income Latinos and African Americans.
The President and his team feel that the way to stem the flow of dropouts is:
- For school districts to basically seize control of the underperforming schools and implement one of four options.
- Personalize and individualize student instruction and support to keep them engaged and focused on success, provide alternative educational routes to keep students on track to graduate and have schools make better use of data and information to more easily identify high-risk students.
- Promote a culture of college readiness.
In and of themselves, each of these areas provide a good start but there are four more components that any initiative to keep Latino students in school must address as well if significant progress is to be made.
1. Impress upon Latino parents that school is a necessity.
While all Latino parents want their children to succeed, not all of them think that a higher education is necessarily the ticket for doing that. Too many parents see education as a legal necessity -- they're children have to go to school or they will have to pay a fine otherwise.
The general concept of a career versus a job is not known in most lower-income Latino households, especially when it's been the custom to live from paycheck to paycheck. A job has always been seen to be more valuable than an education because the benefits are immediate.
There should be the promotion of the concept of "careers and trades" among Latino families with the pay scale/benefits for them versus the pay scale/benefits of jobs that don't need higher education or specialized training.
Until the mindset is changed that a career/trade is more desirable than a job then Latino families will always value the immediate benefit of a paycheck over any potential salary that comes as a result of a diploma/certificate.
2. Equalize the digital divide by providing Latino families with home computers and Internet service.
Low-income Latino families, because they live paycheck to paycheck, feel that computers are a luxury item. However, we know that the computer with Internet access is an invaluable tool for the whole family if instructed on how to use it.
Schools and organizations have been supplying families with free computers but there also should be a special deal worked out with local cable companies that provide Internet access services. Along with the computers, school districts should be able to negotiate a special service deal for those families who qualify for deeply discounted Internet service.
Bridging the digital divide in the home is one way to engage the whole family in education as they learn how to use the Internet and expand their base of knowledge.
3. Children need to know the adults in the school care about them.
Over the years when doing stories about Latino dropouts, the one complaint or observation all the kids had was that they felt no one cared if they showed up for school or not. They felt no adult -- the teacher or the principal or the counselor -- cared one bit about them.
From a cultural perspective where personal relationships are a priority, this omission within the school, especially if the school is overcrowded, is an extremely important one.
To meet this challenge, individual schools should set up times where kids can go and just talk to teachers who aren't in a hurry or resent students taking away from their planning periods or to counselors who aren't overworked trying to get seniors ready to graduate.
One-on-one face time isn't needed by every student but those who are struggling with school are struggling with other things as well and all they need is the comfort of telling an adult who will listen to them without criticizing and judging them.
4. Pass the DREAM Act
Not sure if anyone knows the percentage of undocumented Latino students who are dropping out of high school because they feel they have no future since they can't work or pay in-state tuition to afford to go to college, but there are reports that many of the Latino dropouts are undocumented students.
It makes sense that they would feel this way. They work hard, get good grades but knowing that it's not going to do them any good many lose hope and the will to go on. So they drop out, join gangs, loiter.
The loss of potential is enormous. These kids deserve hope. They have the talent to finish school and go on to college or learn a trade and it's a given their skills will be needed in the future.