More Latinos Are Graduating - Here's Why

PHOTO: Diamond Montana teaches Jose Cruz Jr. about the hydroponic table at Pedro Albizu Campos High School in Chicago, Illinois, as a part of a class on urban agriculture.

The number of Hispanic students graduating from high school is rapidly rising.

More than 70 percent of Latino students graduated on time during the 2009-2010 school year, according to data released this week by the Education Department. That's a jump of 10 points in just five years.

"[It's] promising that high school graduation rates are up for all ethnic groups in 2010 -- especially for Hispanics, whose graduation rate has jumped almost 10 points since 2006," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement. "At the same time, our high school dropout rate is still unsustainably high for a knowledge-based economy and still unacceptably high in our African-American, Latino, and Native-American communities."

The precise reason for the increase is tough to determine, but a number of factors may have contributed to the higher graduation rate.

According to David Thomas, a spokesman for the Education Department, there hasn't been a study of "causal effects," but the state of the economy may play a role.

"Traditionally there has been shown, in economic literature, a correlation between the economy and graduation/dropout rates," Thomas wrote in an email. "The commonly attributed assumption is that fewer students will drop out if there are not sufficient employment options for high school dropouts."

However, the struggling state of the economy could also negatively impact graduation rates.

According to the Pew Hispanic Center, students who drop out of school often do so because they need to support their families, including parents and siblings. Hispanic unemployment has remained around 10 percent for months, and students with parents out of work may feel pressure to quit their studies and find a job.

"Nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of all 16- to 25-year-old survey respondents who cut their education short during or right after high school say they did so because they had to support their family," according to the center. "Other reasons include poor English skills (cited by about half of respondents who cut short their education), a dislike of school and a feeling that they don't need more education for the careers they want (each cited by about four-in-ten respondents who cut their education short)."

Delia Pompa, senior vice president of programs at the National Council of La Raza, who specializes in education, says emphasis on education within the Hispanic community has played a key role in increasing Latino graduation rates.

"Because of the advocacy of the community, we see programs more targeted to Hispanics," Pompa said, noting that parent-outreach programs have been particularly effective in convincing both students and parents that graduating from high school and attending college are realistic possibilities.

"If you look at parents and their dreams and wishes, Hispanic parents have seen high school graduation as the pinnacle," she said. "Parents do believe in their kids, they just don't always know how to help them get to high school graduation and then beyond that, to college graduation."

Pompa also credits advancements in educational assessment with increasing graduation rates, partially by increasing accountability.

No Child Left Behind, the controversial test-based education policy enacted under President George W. Bush, looked for the first time at the performance of different demographics, and not just overall school or state performance.

"It put a spotlight on particular subgroups," Pompa said.

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