Original URL: http://www.azstarnet.com/star/today/21014editdropouts.html

Go ahead, target Hispanics
Tucson, Arizona Daily Star,  Monday, 14 October 2002

The most recent, and appalling, figures for Hispanic dropouts should give Arizona's candidates for state schools chief all the more reason to begin a  comprehensive, statewide initiative to improve the achievement of Hispanic students.

The Associated Press reported Friday that the dropout rate for America's Hispanics increased by 50 percent in the 1990s, even as the rate for the larger population dropped.

Hispanics comprised 34 percent of the nearly 1.5 million dropouts age 16 to 19 years old in the 1990s, according the U.S. Census Bureau.

But the Arizona figures were worse by far. In 1990, Hispanic dropouts for the same age group stood at 39 percent. In 2000, that figure jumped to more than 57 percent.

If that sounds astronomical, consider the numbers in California, Texas and New Mexico. Their respective dropout rates stood at 71.2 percent, 64.4 percent and 63.9 percent.

Clearly, there is a serious disconnect between the decades of public school failures to educate Hispanics and public recognition of those failures.

But even in this season of political hyperbole, we hear little from the candidates for Superintendent of Public Instruction about the overall dropout rate, much less Hispanic dropouts.

Democrat Jay Blanchard's Web site mentions dropouts as one of his priorities, but does not mention Hispanic dropouts. Republican Tom Horne, who won the primary race by attacking bilingual education, does not mention dropouts as a

Despite those political oversights, we argue that the problem is much bigger than the reform issues centering on AIMS as a high-stakes test, an issue on which the candidates strongly disagree.

Nonetheless, the dropout problem does not adhere to a political philosophy. What matters on Hispanic dropouts is not whether a Republican or a Democrat wins the race, but who will confront this complicated, and politically risky, issue.

The issue of Hispanic dropouts is ripe for a statewide strategy that should include commitments from the governor and the state Legislature as well.

Whether or not this state continues on the AIMS path, school reform is under way in Arizona. But despite AIMS and the president's "Leave No Child Behind" initiative, the needle has not shown a decline in decades on Hispanic dropout

This is not a matter on which political leaders should be squeamish. Go ahead, target the problem of Hispanic dropout rates and underachievement. Then back it up with the public funds to pay for the needed teacher education and smaller class sizes.

Public education, the students and the state will be the better for it.


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