• by Josie Danini Supik, M.A. • IDRA Newsletter • October 1996 • Josie Cortez Josie Danini Supik, M.A.

Testimony Before the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans: Equity and Accountability Needed to Reduce Dropout Rates

Editor’s Note: In September, IDRA presented testimony before the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans during hearings held by the commission in conjunction with the National Summit on Latino Children, La Promesa de un Future Brillante, hosted by the National Latino Children’s Agenda. Below is the text of the testimony on dropouts.

We are here this afternoon to speak for those who have no voice – our children and youth. We as adults, as Hispanics, have a responsibility to ensure that all of our children have equitable opportunities for success. If we fail, this country will have lost all that our children could have and would have been. And right now, commissioners, as your report clearly delineates, we are failing our children.

In this country, one out of 10 Hispanic students drops out of school every year. In Texas, our studies show that one out of every two Hispanic students drops out of school. When you look at the trend over time, this number has increased over the past 10 years: from 45 percent of Hispanic students dropping out of school in 1986 to 53 percent in 1996. Furthermore, of all students who drop out of school, half are Hispanic. Of all Hispanics who drop out, half do so before entering the ninth grade.

In 1986, IDRA conducted the first statewide study of dropouts in the state of Texas. We looked at the magnitude; the identification, counting and reporting of dropouts; the cost to our country; and what we were doing about it. Our research resulted in the state legislature passing House Bill 1010 in 1987 that required standard identification and reporting procedures of students who drop out of school. In 1986, we found that for every $1 invested in education there was a $9 return.

Much has been written about the reasons that our children and youth drop out of school. Much of it has been deficit based, blaming our children or their families for our failures. In 1989, IDRA conducted research on the dropout issue for the Dallas Independent School District. This was a landmark study because our research questions did not ask what is wrong with our Hispanic children and their families. We asked why our schools are losing them.

Among our findings was that what made a profound difference in whether or not Hispanic students stayed in school was the presence of an adult who cared – someone in the school, a teacher, a principal, a counselor, someone who saw the inherent value of students, someone who cared and advocated for them – someone who believed, as IDRA does, that all students are valuable; none is expendable. Our program, the Coca­Cola Valued Youth Program, is one manifestation of adults connecting with youths considered potential dropouts in a way that is a testament to students’ strengths and what they can contribute to their peers, their schools, their families and their communities.

We must not underestimate the effects of such a connection or such a belie and valuing model: more that 98 percent of Valued Youth participants, most of them Hispanic, stay in school. During the first four years of the program in the South San Antonio Independent School District, all of the Valued Youth students, almost all of them Hispanic, graduated from high school. When adults see that students who they thought would drop out of school are, when given the opportunity, inspirations and positive leaders to their peers, motivated learners to their teachers, sources of pride to their parents and contributors to their communities, a transformation occurs. They begin to see what is possible for all children. They begin to question their beliefs about students who may look different from them or speak another language. And ultimately, they change and make connections with other caring adults, and as a result schools change.

As we look at what we must do to change the path we have created for our children, we must have greater accountability, accessibility and alignment. We must accept that we are accountable for all of our children and youth, particularly those whose cries are not being heard. We must make our schools equitable and excellent and accessible to all of our children, and we must align resources with needs. We must also ensure that we ask the right questions when we research the dropout issue, focusing on what schools must do to tap the inherent strengths of their minority students and families and not on what their students and families lack and must do to “fit into” the schools.

In the final analysis, we, as adults and as Hispanics, must care about our children. We must not fail them.

Josie Danini Supik, MA, is the director of the IDRA Division of Research and Evaluation. Comments and questions may be sent via e-mail to feedback@idra.org.

[©1996, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the October 1996 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]