High School Latina Drop Out Rate Reaches 41 percent

By Leticia Miranda Sep 09, 2009

It was during my first high school AP history class that I really came up against the seemingly overwhelming barriers to higher education. As the year went along, more and more students of color dropped out of the class without a wince or reaction from our teacher. By the end of the year, I was one of two Latinos in the class and the lone Chicana who thought it wasn’t right our high school textbook offered only a paragraph on anything close to Chicano history. A recent report from the National Women’s Law Center and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) shows that I wasn’t alone in noticing this. The study, "Listening to Latinas: Barriers to High School Graduation" reports that 98 percent of Latinas want to graduate, but 41 percent end up not completing high school in four years or drop out all together. With Latinas being the fastest growing population in the United states, economists and educators alike are calling attention to the high rates of Latina drop outs. But as some bloggers and commentators have been focused on what this means for the nation and the economy, the report seems more interested in showing what the country hasn’t been doing for young Latinas. Through the testimonies of the interviewees, the report shows the seemingly impossible barriers that keep young Latinas from getting through high school let alone that crazy lucha we call higher education. The reality is many of us end up taking care of family members, sisters, brothers while our parents are working long hours or going to school. Language barriers, immigration status and a racially hostile school environment compound the usual stresses of high school where teachers and administrators play into racist assumptions about Latina students setting up low expectations for them. In the report, one college graduate said:

At one point when I told a teacher I was heading away to college, he said he gave me two years before I was married and pregnant.

These comments aren’t rare. And for college-tracked Chicana/Latinas like myself in school, the expectations are on unfair terms. Another interviewee remembers::

I did well in high school. . . . I think that for that reason staff at the high school treated me as if I was better than my other Latina peers. Instead of feeling good, it felt unfair because I knew the staff expected less of me (as a Latina) and that was the reason for their better treatment . . . . I went through high school knowing I wasn’t having the same experience as my peers (they were tracked, left to linger without getting any real support for improvement). I was the “token” Latina achiever and thereby treated more like my white peers.

The report recommends policy changes to help Latinas graduate high school and go on to college. These include improved early education programs for Latinos, better guidance around prerequisites for college, better support Latinas who are pregnant to continue with school and make FAFSA less confusing so it doesn’t discourage our families from applying! Click here to download the report and read the rest of the recommendations.