“Alarming numbers” of Hispanic girls are dropping out of high school nationwide, two advocacy organizations say in a report released Thursday that recommends an array of policy and educational changes to stem the trend.
“We want to make sure educators and policy makers really understand the particular barriers facing Latinas,” said Lara Kaufmann, senior counsel with the National Women’s Law Center and a co-author of the report produced with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “They are the fastest growing group of female, school-aged youth.”
Kaufmann added many of the report’s recommendations — such as expanding affordable child care and early education programs and school initiatives to make students “college ready” — would not only benefit Latinas, but other at-risk students as well, including boys.
“It’s just there’s been a lot of attention to the crisis for boys, but not much attention to the crisis affecting girls,” she said. “We want to make sure they’re not left out of the solution.”
Women who don’t graduate from high school face grimmer prospects than men, Marcia D. Greenberger, co-president of the law center, said Thursday in a conference call with the media. Women “face a lifetime of lower earnings and higher rates of unemployment. Children of women who drop out are more likely to drop out themselves, thereby continuing the cycle.”
The report, “Listening to Latinas: Barriers to High School Graduation,” estimates the drop-out rate of Latinas at 41 percent in 2006. The report’s authors define dropouts as students who do not graduate in four years with a standard diploma, using a method that predicts student’s probability of graduating by looking at the average rate of success of groups of students progressing through each grade.
The New York State Education Department noted, however, that the graduation rate of minority students often improves in the fifth and sixth years.
The graduation rate of Hispanic students in New York who started ninth-grade in 2004 and graduated in June 2008 was 52.2 percent, while 16.8 percent dropped out and another 28.4 percent were still enrolled. The graduation rate for Hispanic females in New York was 58.1 percent in 2008, lower than all other females.
In its surveys of Latinas, the report said that while many had high aspirations — 98 percent said they wanted to finish high school and another 80 percent said they wanted to graduate from college — 34 percent did not “realistically” think they could achieve their educational goal.
Other barriers, the report said, include limited English proficiency; poverty; high pregnancy rates; gender and ethnic stereotyping; and undocumented immigration status. The report recommends legislation to enable “hardworking” students brought to the United States as children but are not yet citizens to have the opportunity to attend college.
Thomas O’Brien, principal of Brentwood High School, where nearly 70 percent of the 3,800 students are Hispanic, sees many of those issues playing out in his school.
“The most at-risk group were Latinas, definitely more so than the males,” O’Brien said, citing issues in the report. A priority is getting students with limited English ability proficient in the language.
A “huge problem,” O’Brien added, was some students’ undocumented status, which casts a dark shadow over their lives.
“Many of these kids who are undocumented have been here since they were toddlers... They consider themselves American. We are disabling our country by allowing this talent pool to go untapped,” O’Brien said.