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Lost Generation

The high dropout rate of Latino high-school students has been a problem for years, but frustration rather than success has been the result of efforts to turn the tide.

Several hundred Southern California teachers, administrators and parents concerned about the fact that the dropout rate in Orange County is getting worse rather than better gathered in the county recently for a detailed review of the situation. Although they did not achieve a consensus on what needs to be done, they were able to agree on at least two things: There is no quick, easy, single solution, and the problem is becoming a statewide crisis.

They are deeply distressed about the statistics and the trend, as everyone should be.

Estimates presented at the conference put the statewide dropout rate of Latino students at about 50%, with some schools reaching as high as 70%. Regional statistics are more difficult to obtain; in Orange County there is no consistent countywide tracking effort. There isn’t even a uniform definition of what constitutes a dropout.

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But a study by the 1981-82 Orange County Grand Jury compared dropout rates of Latino students with others over a four-year period at three Santa Ana high schools. They ranged from 46% to 85%. Figures half that rate should be considered unacceptably high.

The reasons for the high rate of Latino dropouts are, as one education official put it, as numerous as the dropouts themselves. They include language difficulties, the need to find jobs and income, drug use, pregnancy, boredom and a lack of parental involvement.

The California Legislature is starting to take notice. Nineteen bills are pending in the Senate or the Assembly dealing with grade-school and high-school dropouts and possible solutions. As was noted at the conference, however, their fate is uncertain, because two bills aimed at reducing the dropout rate were passed by the Legislature last year but were vetoed by the governor.

School officials do know that the problems begin early and that the seeds for dropping out have been sown as early as the second and third grades. That’s why prevention programs must be given a much higher priority on both local and state levels.

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One state university official at the Orange County conference said, “The dropout situation is a problem for Anglos, blacks, Asians, many groups. But for Chicanos it is a crisis.” The Legislature, the governor, more teachers and parents and the community must start seeing it as a crisis, too, and become committed to finding some answers to turn the tide before more generations of students are needlessly lost forever.


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