ERIC Identifier: ED482920
Publication Date: 2003-11-00
Author: Fry, Richard
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Urban Education
High School Dropout Rates for Latino Youth. ERIC Digest.
The high school dropout rate is a long-standing, widely used indicator
educational outcomes. Teens that have dropped out of school clearly
face an array of
disadvantages. They are paid significantly less in the labor market
employment opportunities are diminished. Their opportunities to enter
education are severely curtailed. Dropout status is also associated
socially debilitating behaviors, including illegal activity, teen fertility,
(National Center for Education Statistics, 2001). Dropout rates are
also frequently used to benchmark school system performance. They are one
of the few secondary school indicators published for every state and, unlike
educational achievement measures, the public widely understands and accepts
the norm that the statistics are attempting to capture.
Dropout rates are particularly problematic measures for Latino youth.
One third of
Hispanic adolescents are foreign-born. Their sending countries tend
to have much lower rates of secondary school completion than the U.S. Dropout
statistics are not
transparent for mobile adolescent populations. This digest presents
the most recent
tabulations on the number of Latino high school dropouts and the pitfalls
the statistics. The outcomes of Hispanic youth in U.S. schools by generation
examined as well as the success of dropouts in ultimately finishing
a high school
LEVEL AND TRENDS IN THE HISPANIC HIGH SCHOOL DROPOUT RATE
The U.S. Department of Education publishes several high school dropout
based on household surveys (National Center for Education Statistics,
prominent measure is the "status dropout rate" or the fraction of youth
that have not
completed high school and are not enrolled in school at the interview
grained status dropout rates can be tallied from the Decennial Census
since it is a
household census rather than a survey. In 2000, about 530,000 Hispanic
16-to-19-year-olds were high school dropouts, yielding a dropout rate
of 21.1 percent for all Hispanic 16-to-19-year-olds (U.S. Census Bureau,
2003). The Latino youth dropout rate was more than three times greater
than the 2000 non-Hispanic "white alone" dropout rate of 6.9 percent. As
a measure of the future schooling and social and economic prospects among
teen populations, these aggregate status dropout rates clearly underline
the disadvantages that Latino youth have, on average, upon entry to adulthood.
Contrary to U.S. Department of Education analyses based on household
(National Center for Education Statistics, 2001), the Census tallies
clearly show that the U.S. status high school dropout rate significantly
fell during the 1990s. The number and percent of 16-to-19-year-olds that
were dropouts declined. With the exception of the Native Hawaiian and Other
Pacific Islander race group, all major racial/ethnic groupsexperienced
a significant decline in the dropout rate (albeit racial trends are difficult
to measure due to the change in the Census racial categories). The Hispanic
dropout rate fell from 21.8 percent in 1990 to 21.1 percent in 2000.
THE HISPANIC HIGH SCHOOL DROPOUT RATE AS AN INDICATOR OF SCHOOL PERFORMANCE
The aggregate Hispanic high school dropout rate is a poor indicator
U.S. secondary school performance. Many of the 530,000 Hispanic high
dropouts are recently arrived immigrants who have never been enrolled
in U.S. schools
(Fry, 2003; Vernez & Abrahamse, 1996; National Center for Education
Statistics, 1997). They meet the status dropout definition, but that does
not imply that they necessarily dropped out of U.S. secondary schools.
Using 2000 Census survey data, it is estimated that about 175,000 of the
530,000 Hispanic high school dropouts were likely never enrolled in U.S.
schools (Fry, 2003). Although it is difficult to obtain a precise estimate
of the number and characteristics of Latino teens that have been enrolled
in U.S. schools using Census data, the status dropout rate for Hispanic
16-to-19 year-olds that have been enrolled in U.S. schools is about 15
percent (Fry, 2003). This is about twice, rather than three times, the
non-Hispanic white dropout rate.
Distinguishing between Latino youth that have never been exposed to
U.S. schools and
those that have been in U.S. classrooms is also critical for the prospects
and design of
appropriate interventions. Hispanic teen dropouts that have never been
in U.S. schools
have markedly different language, gender, family, and labor market
Latino teen dropouts that are U.S. educated. For example, the vast
majority of dropouts that have never been in U.S. schools have very limited
spoken English abilities. Most Hispanic dropouts educated in the U.S. have
English fluency by age 16 (Fry, 2003).
THE PREVALENCE OF DROPPING OUT AMONG U.S. EDUCATED HISPANIC GENERATIONS
The relative magnitude of dropping out among U.S. school children is confirmed by
national longitudinal studies of secondary school cohorts. In the most
study, the National Educational Longitudinal Study tracking 1988 eighth
percent of Latino youth had dropped out as of 1994, compared to 5.7
non-Hispanic white youth (National Center for Education Statistics,
Surprisingly, Hispanic immigrant youth that are educated in U.S. schools
seem to have
no worse educational outcomes than native-born Hispanic youth. In fact,
to be no generational differences in the basic measures of secondary
performance among U.S. educated Hispanic youth. Regardless of how dropping
defined, first, second, and third and higher generation Hispanic youth
drop out of school at similar rates (National Center for Education Statistics,
1998; Driscoll, 1999).
Similarly, the grades and test scores of Hispanic teens educated in
U.S. schools are comparable across generations (Kao, 1999). It is critical
to recognize that these generational results only apply to Hispanic teens
educated in U.S. schools. Immigrant Hispanic youth that are entirely educated
abroad have markedly worse educational outcomes than their U.S. educated
peers (Fry & Lowell, 2002; Chiswick & DebBurman, 2003). In addition,
the lack of generational differences may only apply to secondary school
outcomes. New evidence from the NELS reveals that third generation Hispanic
youth are significantly less likely to finish college (Driscoll, forthcoming).
That immigrant Hispanic youth perform as well as native-born Hispanic
youth in U.S.
schools is rather remarkable. Immigrant children have lower English
income, parental education and home resources. Immigrant youth of Mexican
demonstrate extremely low self-efficacy, self-concept, and high measured
from their peers. Nonetheless, immigrant youth that arrive early in
childhood seem to be able to academically surmount these disadvantages
That third generation Latino youth perform not significantly better
than their second
generation Latino peers is very disconcerting. Since they have U.S.
born parents, a
much larger share of their parents have finished high school and accordingly
higher incomes. Yet these parental advantages do not seem to result
better school performance. Today's Latino students, regardless of how
ancestors have been in the U.S., are on average markedly less likely
to graduate high
school on time in comparison to white students.
The inferences that one can draw from the similarity in high dropout
generations of Hispanic students are important but circumscribed. All
educated students dropout at higher rates than white students and thus
it is likely that
for the foreseeable future Latino adult educational attainment will
trail white educational
attainment. The lack of generational improvement does not imply that
of today's immigrant youth will necessarily dropout of school at the
same rates as
today's immigrants. It is simply difficult to surmise how well the
grandchildren of today's immigrants will fare in U.S. schools.
SECOND CHANCE ALTERNATIVES: LATINO HIGH SCHOOL COMPLETION BY AGE
A high school dropout rate of 15 percent does not imply that 85 percent
of youth will
finish high school. The high school completion rate could be either
higher or lower than
85 percent. Some currently enrolled youth (who presently are not dropouts)
finish high school. And some present dropouts will subsequently finish
either by graduation or receiving a General Educational Development
The GED has become an increasingly important path by which youth complete
school. The likelihood of completion via GED does not seem especially
Latino youth that did not graduate high school with a diploma, about
40 percent completed high school by obtaining a GED certificate (Swail,
Cabrera, & Lee,
forthcoming). This is below the white rate, which indicates that about
half of white youth who did not graduate high school finish by obtaining
It is not precisely clear how many Latino youth finish high school by
age 30. The NELS suggests that 86 percent of Latino youth educated in U.S.
schools finish high school by age 25 or 26 (Swail, Cabrera, & Lee,
forthcoming). Tabulations using Census data indicate that 80 percent of
native-born Latino youth finish high school by age 25 to 29 (Vernez &
Mizell, 2002). High school dropout rates are just one facet of a complex
evaluation of educational outcomes for Latino youth in U.S. public schools.
Latino dropout rates suggest that U.S. schools, on average, have improved
their performance in assisting Latino youth to stay in school and graduate.
The native-born Latino high school dropout rate among 16-to-19-year-olds
fell during the 1990s. These are youths who presumably spent their academic
careers in U.S. schools. Nonetheless, significantly fewer Latino youth
finish high school compared to white youth.
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