by Denise Felder
White high school students in Minnesota graduate at a 42 percent higher rate than Hispanics. That’s according to the Alliance for Excellent Education’s annual study of U.S. high school graduation rates.
Overall, Minnesota has a 79 percent high school graduation rate, 10 points above the national average. White students have the highest graduation rate in Minnesota with 84 percent (higher than the national average of 76 percent). Hispanic students have a 37 percent graduation rate in Minnesota. Other ethnic groups also drop out at a higher rate than whites in our state.
Students who drop out of high school have likely been struggling long before they leave class. A low reading level is one major predictor of dropout rates. The Alliance for Excellent Education says that nationwide students in the bottom quartile of achievement are 20 times more likely to drop out of school than those in the top quartile.
Academic performance is not the only factor in student success. Multiple indicators, such as incidence of poverty and education level of the child’s parents, contribute to students of color being disproportionately represented in the nation’s dropout statistics.
What else may explain dropout rates?
- Are there systematic cultural or language disparities that put students of color at a disadvantage? If so, how do we address these?
- Are local Minnesota school districts not providing adequate textbooks, technology, or other materials needed to help students of color succeed?
- Or does the blame fall on the students and their families for being unmotivated or unsupportive of education? Or are they simply unaware of the likely consequences of dropping out in today’s economy, where almost 90 percent of the faster-growing high-paying jobs require some post-secondary education?
A second Alliance report shows that, on average, dropouts earn over $9,000 per year less than students who graduate from high school. They also have much less success in the job market, poorer health and more difficulties helping their children succeed. A high dropout rate affects all Minnesotans: dropouts pay fewer taxes but impose higher costs on society, for example, by causing more crime and consuming more public assistance. Reducing dropout rates could save Minnesota hundreds of millions of dollars each year.
Given the importance of education for individuals, communities, and the state as a whole, how can we begin to engage and support all students in their education goals?