Dr. Robert H. Kimball
University of Houston/Clear-Lake
Hispanic students are victims of a public education system that does not recognize their culture, language or goals. Consequently, many Hispanics become disillusioned and are convinced to leave public schools. The dropout rate for Hispanic students in public education ranges from 10% to as high as 60% in the Border States. At least 7 states are reporting to the Department of Education that the dropout rate for minorities is over 50% (1998). The Intercultural Development Research Association (2003) reported that the attrition rate for Hispanics in public education was 50% in Texas.
School districts, for example, the Houston Independent School District (HISD) often report inaccurate dropout data to their state education agency. Reporting false data is an attempt to inform the public that HISD does not have a dropout problem. In 2003, HISD reported a dropout rate for Hispanic students as only 1.2%. Some schools in Houston with over 80% of minority and economically disadvantaged students have reported a dropout rate of zero.
School board members, the Superintendent, and community groups deny that the dropout rate is that low. In spite of public denials of this fabricated dropout rate, the rate remains the official dropout rate in Houston. When school districts, like Houston, argue that Hispanics are not dropping out of school, few programs are put in place to reduce the exodus of young Latinos from public schools. When you consider that half of the Hispanic population in the United States are of school age and eligible to be in the public school system, this treatment is not only criminal it is unconstitutional.
The school board trustees for HISD have contributed to the pushout policy for Hispanic students. When they report inaccurate dropout data to the community, they are hiding the fact that there is a crisis in providing an education to the majority (Hispanic) of students in the District. Hispanic students who are pushed out of public schools are not given the tools necessary for success.
The media frequently report the murder, rape or victims of other crimes of young Hispanic youths in major cities. The victims or perpetrators are almost always high school dropouts. One research study reported that 82% of the persons in prisons did not graduate from high school. Gangs actively recruit young Latino youth who have become disillusioned with the public education system. The unemployment rate of Hispanics between the ages of 16-24 is the highest of any ethnic group. Today, many schools, especially HISD, are providing a track for Hispanics that quickly leads from the school house to the jailhouse. School Districts are spending more tax dollars for failure than they are for success.
Reasons for students dropping out of high schools have been the subject of many research projects. The Harvard University Civil Rights Project suggest schools provide a negative environment for Hispanic students. They report four factors that create this negative environment. They are:
1. High Stakes Testing and grade retention
2. Zero Tolerance policies for school discipline that lead to frequent suspensions and expulsions
3. Inadequate funding and resources
4. Lack of support from teachers and community
Numerous research projects provide other reasons for students dropping out. One study suggests that a contributing factor to the large Hispanics dropout numbers is the high birth rate among young Hispanic teenagers. A recent survey found that 40% of Hispanic dropouts cited being pregnant or having to care or provide for a child as a reason for dropping out. Latinas are more likely to dropout because of a conflict over traditional family roles of motherhood and family responsibility. It is estimated that over 50% of the parents of Hispanic children are high school dropouts. Many Latinas who become pregnant often decide to dropout because their parents dropped out of school.
The language barrier is also cited as a reason for a high dropout rate. There are many public schools that have no Spanish speaking members on the staff. Many school counselors and administrators have preconceived
attitudes that Hispanic students are not interested in obtaining an education. Many school staff members are not making an effort to learn Spanish or study the culture of Hispanic students. One study reports that 40% of Hispanic students who are pushed out of school are not proficient in English. It reports a high correlation between language proficiency and school success.
There are elementary schools in HISD which are classified as bilingual programs but in reality only teach subjects in Spanish. As a school administrator, I was assigned to an elementary school in HISD where every student was Hispanic and fluent in Spanish. The teachers only taught in Spanish. On a daily basis, I visited these classrooms and never observed lessons being taught in English. One student who had been a student at the school for 3 years could not communicate in English. The research on bilingual programs is mixed. However, no one would argue that the Spanish only program at this HISD School is a typical bilingual program. This teaching method, Spanish only, does not help students succeed and will only result in them becoming a dropout because of a lack of proficiency in English.
There are many Hispanic students who overcome all barriers and graduate from high school. These students become graduates of schools that are successful in helping Hispanic students succeed. These caring schools encourage students to stay in school and do not practice policies that results in pushing out Hispanic students from public schools.
The President of the North Carolina Society of Hispanic Professionals, Marco Zarate, argues that “The number #1 reason that dropout rates are higher for Hispanics is not work-related and it’s not family related. It is school related. If a child is doing well in school, if he or she feels part of the school, they are not going to drop out”. A Department of Education survey supports his argument. It found that 51% of students who dropped out said they did not like school and 35% said they could not get along with their teachers. Almost 40% reported that they dropped out because the school was failing them.
Research is beginning to provide evidence that Hispanic students are not dropping out, they are being pushed out by the policies and behavior of school Administrators, teachers, and board trustees. In many Texas schools, Hispanic students are being targeted by educational leaders for elimination from the public school system. They targeted them because they are not likely to pass the state examinations that are used to rate schools and provide financial incentives to all employees. In Texas, the school rating system discriminates against those school districts with large Hispanic populations. Patricia Hardy, member, State Board of Education, argues that “The rating system rewards school whose populations are largely wealthy and white…a silent form of segregation”.
In Texas, the state puts pressure on schools to increase results on state mandated tests. Schools put pressure on administrators, teachers and students. As a result, students are being systematically pushed out of the educational system. It’s called a plan to hold schools accountable, but in reality, it’s a plan that encourages schools to push out low performing students and in some cases according to recent media reports, help them cheat on state mandated tests.
Several strategies are being used by school districts to push out Hispanic students. In 2002, the School Board of the Houston Independent School District adopted a policy of retaining students who did not pass one core course in high school. This policy had been in effect since 2000 at many of the high schools in Houston because these schools had asked for a waiver on course requirements. When the waiver policy significantly increased scores on state mandated test, the Board made it a District policy. By making this policy change, they were able to keep the low performing Hispanic students from taking the Texas examinations at 10th grade where it counted for the school’s rating.
In Houston, over 20,000 Latino youth were kept in the 9th grade for up to 3 years under this policy. Latino youth became disillusioned at being retained and often quit. Statistically, students have a 50% chance of dropping out if they are retained one year and 90% if they are retained two years. Educational leaders were informed of this research finding but continued to use this policy to push out Latino youth from public education.
In Houston, a group of activists obtain national media attention to this problem. After the national media’s attention, Houston changed its policy of requiring that students pass all subjects to be moved to the next grade level. However, today, in spite of that change, there are still a very large number of Latino students being retained in the 9th grade in Houston. Today, there are many high schools that begin with a freshman class of over 1000 students and in four years graduate less than 200 of them.
Other methods to push out Hispanic students are for Principals to hire “bouncers” as Assistant Principals. These are school administrators who will do anything it takes to increase attendance rates, a factor in school ratings. They are also hired to insure that only the best students are still enrolled when the time comes to take the state mandated test that will determine the school’s rating and bonuses.
As an assistant principal in a Houston high school, I personally observed these bouncers at work. They would walk the halls and tell students to go to the office and withdraw. When the student asked why, they were told it was because they had too many absences or were sent to the office too many times for discipline. Sometimes they would be told that they had poor grades. Oftentimes, these administrators would suspend Hispanic students for minor infractions which would make them appear as troublemakers and help build a case for pushing them out. Many of these students were 16 years of age and sometimes as young as 15.
In Houston schools and many others across the nation, Principals have replaced counselors with Deans (formerly called Assistant Principals). These Deans are placed over a small population of the school under the small school concept reform movement. Unfortunately, these Deans do not have the experience nor will they take the time to help students who need counseling. They were hired to bounce students, not retain low performing students.
The counselor who used to provide encouragement and help students with problems have almost disappeared in many high schools as a result of the small school reform movement. The Deans are also not trained in how to help a student select a course required to graduate on time. Many students took courses they did not need for graduation or were placed in courses for which they had already had credit.
As a result, they often discovered a few weeks before graduation that they were not qualified to graduate. A recent study of 10 high school programs in the HISD that list the names of graduates revealed that between 10 and 20% were not eligible to graduate in spite of being on the official graduation program.
RESULTS OF PUSHOUT POLICIES
Unfortunately, these polices are destroying the lives of many Hispanic young people. The current polices and practices of many school districts are causing the Hispanic community to subject their youth to a life of prisons, welfare, substandard health care and a lack of safety because they are doomed to live in high crime areas.
These polices have a major impact on the economic future of Texas. It is estimated that between 1985-1986 and 2002-2003 school years, the costs of public school dropouts were in excess of $500 Billion in lost revenue, income and costs associated with the State paying for prisons, welfare and unemployment. Pushout policies impact a city’s growth, because major businesses evaluate the education attainment of a community when deciding to relocate. According to the Department of Education, Texas is 47th in the nation in educational attainment.
How we educate our children in Texas will determine our economic future. Businesses and growth depend on an educated population. Two cities, as an example, Gary, Indiana, and Detroit, Michigan, have experienced the loss of many businesses because of the low level of education of many of its citizens. Businesses have left the city and new businesses are not moving to those cities. The Detroit public school system is going to close 110 schools. If cities like Houston do not recognize that its pushout policies are going to severely impact its economic future and destroy many young lives, it will quickly become another Gary, Indiana or Detroit, Michigan.
Communities like Houston, Texas must stop the practice of pushing out Hispanics or they will cease to be a viable community in the future. The State of Texas and other States will only lose their most valuable resource, educated people, if they do not change policies that are designed to deprive them of a constitutional right…an education and the right to pursue happiness. Recently, the Chairman of the House Education Committee in Texas, Kent Grussendorf provided great advice. He stated,” You can not hide your head in the sand. Children are too important not to solve the problem”.
Dr. Robert Kimball