National NOW Times >> Fall, 2001 >> Article
Latina Girls’ High School Drop-Out Rate Highest in
by Olga Vives, Vice President-Action, with
research by Kristy McCray, Communications Intern
publicized Education Reform Act, the first bill introduced in Congress by
allies of George W. Bush, languishes in Congress without the votes
necessary to become law, and the prospects for passing such legislation at
this point seem slim.
“Leave no child behind”, a phrase lifted by
Bush from the Children’s Defense Fund, rings hollow. His performance as
Governor of Texas reveals the hypocrisy of his words: the state ranks
among the highest in high school dropout rates. Thirteen percent of
Hispanic students drop out of high school compared to 11 percent of
African-American and 6 percent of white students.
leave high school at a much higher rate than any other group. This has
added significance with the release of the 2000 census data which showed
that Hispanics are virtually tied with African-Americans as the largest
minority group in the United States and at the current rate will be, by
the year 2045, the largest people-of-color community in the U.S.
reasons Latina girls leave high school before graduation are many. One
major factor is pregnancy. A third of 9- to 15-year-old girls surveyed by
the Academy of Educational Development cited pregnancy or marriage as the
reason for dropping out of high school. The former governor of Texas did
little to improve his state’s teen pregnancy rate — in recent reports
Texas ranked 46 of 50. And in 1997, Texas reported 52,728 births to girls
ages 15-19; of those, 27,869 (52.8 percent of the total) were to Latina
Other factors cited for the disproportionate high school
drop-out rate of Latina girls are marriage, gender roles, stereotyping,
family demands and economic status. Attitudes of teachers, a lack of
proficiency in English, peer pressure, and a lack of role models are also
contributing factors to this disturbing trend. Despite the alarming rate
of drop-outs among Hispanic girls, there is no public outcry and little is
being done to remedy this situation.
What Can Feminists
First, we must bring the light of day to an education
system that disadvantages Latina girls. Reportedly Latina girls are often
viewed by educators as submissive underachievers. This takes on added
significance when reinforced by family at home. There are inadequate
vocational programs for Latinas, sometimes none at all, and they suffer
sexual harassment in the schools in greater numbers than other girls. As a
result of this harassment, students often stay home, cut class, or don’t
contribute. They can’t concentrate on school work and suffer lowered
self-esteem and self-confidence.
Bilingual services are
non-existent or poor at many schools and this leads to disillusionment.
There is a pervasive negative attitude of school personnel toward
non-English languages and the people who speak them. A critical factor in
promoting Latina success is a school staff that believes that all students
can succeed—valuing their languages and cultures, providing sound
counseling, and involving parents.
Educational programs at all
levels are key to reversing the trend. The future of Latina girls who drop
out is bleak. Many enter the workforce at below-minimum wage jobs, enter
into marriages that often result in domestic abuse, and/or stay at home to
care for younger siblings while their mothers work outside of the home.
Their world is one of few options, of increasing hardship and submission.
We must insist on solutions at all levels of our society.
girls need to know their options, and need the support of family, schools
and peers in taking non-traditional career paths. Events in highs school
or college campuses that feature successful Latinas in non-traditional
fields can inspire Latina girls to think about their future and career
NOW members can lobby school boards for better curriculum
and programs for Latina girls and special assistance/counseling programs
aimed at reinforcing positive images. Feminists can take action to bring
about real educational reforms to address these problems in our
communities and to bring public education to a level of excellence for all
children and young adults, helping them achieve individual
“Leave no child behind” must be more than hollow words;
there is a real educational crisis in this country that is affecting
children of color in disproportionate numbers. The political leaders who
rubber-stamped the largest tax cut in history must be brought to account
for its impact on the majority of the people of this country, those who
bear the tax burden and receive the fewest services. It is an outrage that
there are over 400,000 children living in poverty in the U.S., most in
households headed by women, and particularly women of color. Tax dollars
needed to address the disparities in our society have been given back to
those that need them the least.
Erika Cerda, in a recent interview in
The Dallas Morning News, gave as a reason for dropping out of high school
that her “teachers were not explaining things very well.” She “never fit
in” at Sunset High School. “Kids were making fun of me,” she said, because
she was poor. We in NOW can make a difference in Erika’s life by bringing
about the social justice that eludes