• by María Robledo Montecel, Ph.D. • IDRA Newsletter • October 2001

Dr. María “Cuca” Robledo Montecel, Ph.D.The San Antonio Express-News has helped this community address the issue of dropouts through its recent series of in-depth articles by Lucy Hood, Edmund Tijerina and Sharon Hughes with photos by Edward Ornelas.

The series correctly concluded what the Intercultural Development Research Association and many others, have been reporting for more than a decade.

In 1986, IDRA conducted Texas’ first comprehensive statewide study of high school dropouts, which showed that one out of three students were dropping out before graduating. Our studies show that since 1986 the estimated cumulative number of Texas high school dropouts is [1.6 million] students – with an estimated net loss to the state of [$441 billion]. Clearly, the number of students dropping out of school is too high.

According to data compiled by the Texas Education Agency, 348,903 students were enrolled as ninth graders in Texas high schools in 1997. Four years later; only 220,324 seniors were enrolled.

Texas has long tried to ignore the problem, and failing that, has tried to get rid of it by undercounting the numbers of students who drop out of school before graduating. The Express-News series that focused on one San Antonio high school showed that students didn’t simply transfer to different schools; most of the missing students dropped out before graduating.

Why are the numbers important? If we don’t count the students, the students don’t count.

All students count. Schools that succeed know this. Such schools don’t blame their students for the dropout rate, but look for ways to make school work for all young people.

Schools that work for everyone value children, promote high expectations, create support systems and include families and communities in meaningful ways. Students are neither seen nor treated as problems to be “fixed” or as time bombs that may explode at any moment.

San Antonio has many committed and dedicated educators who are helping to make schools work for all students. Our community was the birthplace of one of the most successful dropout prevention programs in the country – the IDRA Coca­Cola Valued Youth Program.

The program, which has become a national network of schools, is a cross-age tutoring program that takes students who are considered to be at -risk situations and places them as tutors of younger students. Since its inception in 1984, the program has helped schools keep 98 percent of program participants in school.

The challenge of ensuring that students do not drop out of school will not be overcome with a series of articles, one educational program, concerned families or even dedicated and committed educators working alone.

The challenge will be met when we count all students and when all students count, when apathy turns to outrage and when outrage leads to action.

Originally published by the San Antonio Express-News on June 14, 2001. Reprinted with permission. María “Cuca” Robledo Montecel, Ph.D., is executive director of IDRA. Comments may be directed to her via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

[©2001, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Every effort has been made to maintain the content in its original form. However, accompanying charts and graphs may not be provided here. To receive a copy of the original article by mail or fax, please fill out our information request and feedback form. 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.]