No Child Left Behind? Arizona Tops Dropout List

June 30, 2013

Arizona has the highest dropout rate in the country.

That ugly black mark is buried deep within the supporting data for the “Condition of Education 2013” – an annual report mandated by Congress and produced by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the federal entity responsible for collecting and analyzing education data.

It says 7.8 percent of Arizona’s high-schoolers dropped out in a 12-month period.  That’s more than double the national rate of 3.4 percent.

The encouraging news is that both percentages are improvements.  Arizona’s rate was 13 percent in the early 1990s and was still in double digits as recently as a decade ago.  More kids are staying in school, or at least coming back within a few years to earn a high school “credential.”

The distressing news is that lots of young people have been, and continue to be, left behind.

No one in Arizona is immune.  The dropout rate for white students nationwide is 2.3 percent per year.  It’s triple that in Arizona, at 6.8 percent.

Nonetheless, it is Arizona’s minority students who are more likely to halt their education.    Native Americans drop out at a rate of 14.6 percent per year, blacks at 8.8 percent, Hispanics at 8.1 percent.  Each of those is considerably worse than their cohorts nationally.

That’s a horde of dropouts.  A separate report issued this month takes an even dimmer view.  Education Week projects in its annual “Diplomas Count” that Arizona schools lose 145 students each school day.

The NCES calculates that just 75 percent of Arizona’s high school students will graduate on time.

Some Will Return to School or Earn GED

Important however for Arizona, a good many of the others will return to school; others will earn GED’s or similar equivalents.  By the time they reach age 25, according to the most recent figures in the education report, 85 percent will have gained some kind of diploma.

That’s within decimal points of the national average.

The graduation rates differ, however, by race and ethnicity.  And those differences matter – a lot.  Education levels, as the report specifies, make a critical difference in employment, wages, and therefore in what these individuals contribute to the state economy.

Dropouts Aren’t Just Lacking A Diploma

Poverty Line Parallels the ‘Education Divide’

Women’s New Domain: College Degrees

What happens with Hispanics is particularly crucial, for they were about to overtake whites as the plurality of public school students.   As they go, ever increasingly goes Arizona.  In 2010, according to the supporting data to the report, Hispanics were just seven-tenths of a percentage point away from that mark.

Barely 6 of 10 Hispanics over the age of 25 have graduated from high school.  That compares with more than 9 of 10 whites.

The education report does not explicitly suggest cause and effect for such differences but one can readily see connections among the various data points:

  • Hispanics born outside the U.S. have difficulty assimilating a new language and culture.   The “status dropout rate” – meaning those ages 16 to 24 who hadn’t  received a high school “credential” and were not enrolled in school – was three times higher for Hispanics born abroad than for those born in the U.S.
  • They’re more likely to be poor.  The high number – 26 percent – of Arizona schoolchildren living in poverty are not evenly divided among the population.  On one end are white and Asian students.  Thirteen percent of them live in poverty.  On the other end are black, Hispanic and Native American students.  More than a third of them live in poverty.
  • The cycle repeats itself.  The national study demonstrates that the likelihood of 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds attending “pre-primary” school programs up to and including kindergarten – which are regarded by educators as having an important bearing on later success in school – is tied to the education level of their parents.   Many fewer of the young children of high school dropouts are enrolled in such programs.

Each of the above items represents a mega-issue that either already is or should be the subject of major policy discussions.

High School Is One Thing; College Is Another

The good news is that Hispanics are gaining on their educational shortcomings.  In 1972, only 56 percent had a diploma or its equivalent by their 25th birthday.  In recent years, the number has bumped up to 76 percent.

But even as they inch their way up the education ladder, the target is moving on them.  The measure of success these days is as much or more a college degree as it is a high school diploma.  On that score, Hispanics have a long way to go.

The study reports that 52 percent of Asians, 32 percent of whites, and 23 percent of blacks over the age of 25 had attained a college degree or higher.  Those figures compare with just 10 percent of Hispanics and 7 percent of Native Americans.

They have many more books to crack.