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Examining the high school dropout crisis

Photo by anna vignet/Flickr (Creative Commons)

An NPR series this week has focused on the high school dropout crisis, which disproportionately affects black and Latino teens. According to U.S. Department of Education statistics, in spite of lower overall dropout rates since 1980, Latino teens' rates remain the highest. And while boys receive much of the attention, nearly as many girls drop out, too.

From a piece yesterday, which profiled Lauren Ortega of San Bernardino, now 20:

Of the million or so kids who drop out of school every year, nearly half are girls. They drop out for the same reasons boys do: they skip school, fall behind academically and they're bored. But the single biggest reason girls drop out is because they get pregnant.

Young Latinas are the most susceptible to this, according to the piece, which cites national figures stating that 41 percent of Latinas who drop out of school do so because they become pregnant. The question that remains is how to break the cycle.

The five-part series continues today with a piece profiling teens in Baltimore, where "the vast majority of kids who never finish school drop out because of extreme poverty, homelessness and a drug epidemic that has left some neighborhoods desolate and dangerous."

An overview this weekend presented some bleak statistics:

  • The unemployment rate for people without a high school diploma is nearly twice that of the general population.

  • Over a lifetime, a high school dropout will earn $200,000 less than a high school graduate and almost $1 million less than a college graduate.

  • Dropouts are more likely to commit crimes, abuse drugs and alcohol, become teenage parents, live in poverty and commit suicide.

  • Dropouts cost federal and state governments hundreds of billions of dollars in lost earnings, welfare and medical costs, and billions more for dropouts who end up in prison.

A broad solution has remained out of reach, though some measures that have been tested have worked better than others. The education website Edutopia had an interesting piece a few years ago, "How to End the Dropout Crisis," that outlined several of these strategies.