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Dropout rates for Hispanics questioned

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Posted: Friday, June 13, 2003 10:00 pm

Just last March, the federal government made the assertion that nearly one in three Hispanic students drops out of high school.

But a recent report calls that number into question.

The new report, released by the Pew Hispanic Center, says that the federal government's numbers include many immigrant Latinos "who never set foot in a U.S. school."

The report also cites significant differences between the dropout rates of Hispanic immigrants compared to U.S.-born Hispanics.

Hispanic dropout rates are more complex than previously assumed, and the way state and federal governments calculate dropout rates distorts the picture of Hispanic academic success, according to the report. The Pew Hispanic Center is a nonpartisan research organization, affiliated with the University of Southern California.

According to California Dept. of Education statistics, California's Hispanic dropout rate is less than 15 percent; in the Lodi Unified School District, it is 11.5 percent.

In California in 2001, immigrant Latinos had a high school dropout rate of 34.2 percent, compared to 10 percent for those born here, according to the report released this week. Nationally, approximately 35 percent of Hispanics of high school age are immigrants, compared to 5 percent of non-Latinos.

Statistics kept by the California Department of Education do not make the distinction between immigrant and U.S.-born Hispanics.

In every statistic, however, the graduation rate for all California high schools has improved significantly over the last decade. But while the dropout rate for the state's Hispanics has improved, it remains higher than for almost any other group. Only blacks have a higher dropout rate.

In California, the overall dropout rate fell from 20 percent in 1991-92 to 10.9 percent in 2001-02; the rate for Hispanics fell from 29.2 percent to 14.8 percent. Statewide, Hispanics are 39 percent of the total high school population.

At Lodi Unified, the overall rate fell from 12.2 percent to 6.3 percent; for Hispanics, it fell from 18 percent to 11.5 percent. At LUSD high schools, Hispanics represent 30.4 percent of total enrollment.

In Galt, the overall dropout rate fell from 14.4 percent to 7.4 percent. For Hispanics, it fell from 22.1 percent to 9.7 percent. Galt High has 33.4 percent Hispanic enrollment.

Although dropout rates show differences based on ethnicity, the most significant factor is financial, LUSD Superintendent Bill Huyett said.

"When you consider ethnicity, you can see some things," he said. "But when you look across the board, what you see is poverty."

As a principal in south Sacramento, Huyett worked with many Asian students whose academic success was affected by their poverty.

"Poverty affects nutrition and all of those things," he said.

Even among Hispanic families there are factors that affect whether or not a student graduates from high school, he said.

"There are Hispanic families that are really and truly migrants, and the families spend much of their time in Mexico," he said. According to state statistics, these students are considered dropouts, because they did not enroll in another California school.

Another important factor in a student's success is language, he said.

According to the Pew study, a lack of English language skills is the main characteristic of Latino dropouts. Among Latino students who say they have poor English skills, the dropout rate is 59 percent nationally, according to the report.

In an interesting sidelight, the report says that the average Hispanic immigrant high school dropout earns an average of $10,000 a year, while a U.S.-born Hispanic dropout earns $6,300 a year. White dropouts earn an average of $7,300 a year.

The report says that Latino youth tend to be relatively successful in the labor market, in comparison to both white and black youth. They have higher earnings because they work longer hours.

According to the report, 56 percent of Hispanic high school dropouts hold jobs, in comparison to 49 percent of white dropouts.

Two-thirds of foreign-born Latino high school dropouts who were never enrolled in U.S. schools are employed. Of those who work, nearly 90 percent work full-time. Nearly 70 percent of U.S.-born Hispanic high school dropouts work full-time, compared to 52 percent of white high school dropouts.

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