New Report Addresses Reasons for 41 Percent Dropout Rate Among Latina High School Students

FOR IMMEDIATE DISTRIBUTION: Thursday, August 27, 2009 CONTACT: NWLC - Mary Robbins/Adrienne Ammerman, 202-588-5180 MALDEF - Estuardo Rodriguez, 202-631-2892

NEW REPORT ADDRESSES REASONS FOR 41 PERCENT DROPOUT RATE AMONG LATINA HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS NWLC and MALDEF survey Latinas about their aspirations and unique challenges to reaching their goals

(Washington, DC) The National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) today released a new report highlighting that Latina students face greater challenges graduating from high school than many of their counterparts. The report is available here: www.nwlc.org/listening

The report, Listening to Latinas: Barriers to High School Graduation, addresses the challenges facing Latina high school students in the United States and explores ways to overcome obstacles that undermine their chances of graduating from high school. It also brings new voices to the conversation: those of Latina students themselves and of the adults who work with them on a daily basis. The report includes recommendations for schools and policymakers to improve the odds that young Latinas will graduate from high school and lead successful lives.

“To ignore high dropout rates among Latina students is to turn our backs on the American promise of fairness and equality of opportunity,” stated Marcia D. Greenberger, Co-President of NWLC. “Significant resources should be devoted to improving the graduation rates of Latinas and to ensuring that each young Latina can achieve her dreams and that the country can benefit from her talents.”

“This year historic strides have been made by minority communities- Americans elected our first black President and the first Latina, and only third woman, was confirmed as the newest Justice to the U.S. Supreme Court,” stated Representative Raul Grijalva (D-AZ). “As outlined by this report, Latina students, in particular, face greater hurdles to achieving academic success than their male counterparts. In order to ensure that our leaders continue to reflect the racial, ethnic and gender diversity of our nation we must address these obstacles and provide our students with the resources and support they need.”

Latinas are dropping out of school in alarming numbers; the latest data show that 41 percent of Hispanic female students do not graduate in four years with a standard diploma. Latinas also have the highest teen pregnancy and birth rates of any subgroup of young people in the United States, with 53 percent becoming pregnant before age 20, which significantly affects girls’ graduation rates. Dropping out has serious and damaging repercussions for the future prospects and economic security of these young women, who comprise the fastest growing group of female school-aged youth in the U.S.

“Despite the many barriers and challenges they face, Latina students possess a remarkable resiliency and a strong desire to succeed,” said Veronica Rivera, a Legislative Staff Attorney at MALDEF. “To make their desire to succeed a reality, young Latina women need the support of their families, their teachers, their communities, and the attention of policymakers.”

Listening to Latinas incorporates the results of national surveys, interviews, and focus groups conducted earlier this year with Latina students and the adults who work with them. Several clear themes emerged from the research:

o Latinas have high aspirations. Almost every Latina surveyed, 98 percent, reported that they want to graduate from high school, and 80 percent said they want to graduate from college and perhaps go further. As one interview participant commented:

“It’s very important to me to graduate - it’s one of my goals in life because nobody in my family really graduated from middle school or high school so I want to do that for myself, so I don’t have to worry about working in fast food places or whatever.”

o Sadly, too many young Latinas doubt their ability to reach their goals. In response to the survey question: “Realistically, what is the highest level of education you think you will achieve?” a full one-third of the girls (34%) responded by checking a lower level of education than they had reported wanting to achieve.

o The Latino community faces many challenges that help explain the discrepancy between Latinas’ dreams and actual expectations for their lives. Latino students’ academic achievement and dropout rates can be profoundly affected by the challenges faced by many of their communities. These challenges include poverty, schools with limited resources and restricted learning opportunities, immigration status, limited English proficiency, and lack of parental involvement in school.

o Latinas face particular challenges related to the intersection of their ethnicity and gender. Latinas and Latinos face some similar challenges at school, such as concerns about school safety, attendance problems, disciplinary issues, and poor academic performance – all of which tend to limit student engagement in school and increase the risk of dropping out. Latinas face additional challenges, including the influence of harmful gender and ethnic stereotypes and discrimination from teachers and classmates based on their ethnicity and gender.

o Teen pregnancy, teen parenting, and other care-giving responsibilities at home present barriers for Latinas. Latinas, who have the highest teen pregnancy and birth rates of any racial or ethnic group, are at high risk of dropping out because of pregnancy and parenting responsibilities. In the survey, more than one-quarter of the girls (27%) said they had friends who dropped out of school when they got pregnant. In addition, family care-giving responsibilities – typically for younger siblings or elderly relatives – fall more heavily on Latinas than on Latinos.

Listening to Latinas concludes with concrete recommendations for schools and policymakers to enable Latinas to overcome the barriers that they face.

For more information on dropout prevention for girls, visit NWLC’s website: http://www.nwlc.org/dropout.

To interview Marcia D. Greenberger at NWLC, please contact Adrienne Ammerman or Mary Robbins at 202-588-5180. To interview Veronica Rivera at MALDEF, please contact Estuardo Rodriguez at 202-631-2892.

###

The National Women's Law Center is a non-profit organization that has been working since 1972 to advance and protect women's legal rights. The Center focuses on major policy areas of importance to women and their families including economic security, education, employment and health, with special attention given to the concerns of low-income women. For more information on the Center, visit: www.nwlc.org.

Founded in 1968, MALDEF, the nation’s leading Latino legal organization, promotes and protects the rights of Latinos through litigation, advocacy, community education and outreach, leadership development, and higher education scholarships. For more information on MALDEF, please visit: www.maldef.org.