Saturday, October 25, 2014

U.S. High School Dropout Rates Fall, Especially Among Latinos

From Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight.  To read the whole story go here.
6:36 AM Oct 20, 2014
By Ben Casselman 

Five years ago, educators at Elkhart Community Schools realized they had a problem. Their dropout rate was too high. More than one third of the northern Indiana school district’s students weren’t graduating from high school on schedule. Among Hispanics, who make up about a third of the student body, the figures were even worse.

“It was a significant moment where we said we have to change the culture,” said Gail Draper, who heads the guidance department at Elkhart Central High School. “We had to do something to turn the tide.”

It seems to be working. In 2013, 85 percent of Elkhart’s students graduated on time, putting the district close to the state average. Perhaps even more remarkably, the graduation rate among Hispanics is now equal to — or even slightly above — that of the district’s overall population.

 Elkhart’s improvement is a particularly dramatic example of a nation-wide trend: Graduation rates are improving, especially for Latinos.1 Nationally, the on-time graduation rate topped 80 percent for the first time in 2012, up from 74 percent five years earlier. For Latinos, the graduation rate is up more than 10 percentage points over the past five years, to 76 percent. 

And...what works:

“It’s hard to get an 18-year-old to think in the long term when they can get a job for $12 an hour,” said Draper, the Elkhart guidance counselor.

So Elkhart administrators began calling local employers and talking to them about how by offering jobs to teenagers during school hours, they were contributing to the dropout problem — ultimately leaving them with a less educated workforce. In some cases, the administrators worked with employers to turn the jobs into internships, earning students school credit. And they developed an after-hours school program to help students who needed to work during the day stay in school.

“We try and work with the students in the circumstances that they’re in,” Draper said.

Draper recalled one student who had arrived in Elkhart from Mexico in his sophomore year speaking no English. He was a particularly promising student — until one day he walked into the guidance office and announced he was dropping out. His mother had lost her job. He needed to go to work.

“We said no, you can’t do that. You’re too smart,” Draper said. The school raced to find help for the student and his family, reaching out to local community groups to find financial support and working with the student to ensure he could stay in school while working. Draper said the experience showed the importance of relationships — the student’s relationship with his advisor, where he felt comfortable revealing his family’s problems, and the school’s relationship with the community, where they could find a solution.

It worked. The student stayed in school and is on track to graduate with his class this spring — with honors.

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