The Chronic Condition of Hispanic High School

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Introduction

The release of the 2010 U.S. Census results last month revealed a changing face for the nation. Driven by the 43% growth of both Hispanics and Asians over the past decade, ethnic minorities will become the new population majority in the next 30-40 years (U.S. Census Bureau, 2011). Unfortunately, what has not changed is the appalling high school dropout rate for Hispanics. Since the 1970s, the Hispanic dropout rate has been consistently among the worst of all population groups, peaking as high as 35%, to a recent low of 18.3% in 2008 (National Center for Education Statistics [NCES], 2010). This rate is more than twice that of African Americans and about three-times higher than whites and Asians. Although other ethnic minority groups have made significant progress over the past three decades, Hispanics continue to remain at the very bottom of the education ladder.

The literature cites many reasons for the excessive Hispanic dropout rates (a) poor English skills creating language barriers with teachers and school officials; (b) economic factors; many Hispanic families live in poverty and need students' income; (c) fewer role models resulting in minimal mentoring opportunities; (d) challenges connecting with teachers (language, culture, etc.) which makes students feel unwanted and causes them to lose interest; (e) large percentage of Hispanics are migrant workers and therefore, a more transient population; and (f) parents lack of involvement in their children's educational development.

Although the articles reviewed in this study determined that many factors contributed to these poor results, they don't focus on a single, major cause for the excessive dropout rates. Instead they conclude that all of these elements, or some combination of them, impact Hispanic students' desire to leave school early. The literature does suggest however that a significant, if not the most important, reason for dropping out is the final factor listed above, the absence of Hispanic parents' involvement in the students' learning process. Unfortunately, there is not enough research on why Hispanic parents are not as involved as other groups, so further analysis is needed. Since this seems to be a less reviewed area, I have decided to look deeper into the issue and explore possible reasons why Hispanic parents do not participate in their children's schooling. This is an important topic because family is central to the Hispanic culture. Children are close to their families and to the communities they live in, so more parent involvement can be a significant step in helping with the retention of these students.

Additionally, I believe using the framework from Hofstede's Model of Cultural Dimensions for assessing cultures may help explain reasons why Hispanics are not more involved in their children's educational activities. More specifically, it appears that the power distance value dimension of national culture could be a factor that prevents Hispanics from focusing on education to improve their position in society. Power distance describes the extent to which less powerful members of a society (like the family) accept and expect that power in institutions and organizations is distributed unequally. This behavior suggests that a culture's role of inequality is endorsed by both the followers and the leaders. A high rating on power distance means that large inequalities of power and wealth exist and are tolerated in the culture, as in a class or caste system that discourages upward mobility. A majority of the Hispanics who immigrate to the U.S. to seek work are from Mexico which has a very high rating in the power distance cultural dimension. In fact, Mexico is ranked in the top five of high power distance countries in the world (Robbins & Judge, 2010).

Significance of Study

This issue is significant because U.S. demographics are changing dramatically in this country. Hispanics represent one of the fastest growing segments of the population. According to the 2010 Census Brief, the Hispanic population was approximately 50.5 million, which was about 16% of the overall U.S. population of 308 million (U.S. Census Bureau, 2011).The number of Hispanics has grown around 43% since 2000, and accounted for about 55% of the total nation's growth during that same ten-year period. This is more than five times the growth rate of the total population of 9.7%. If the current trend continues, the population of the United States will rise to about 438 million in 2050, with Hispanics tripling in size and accounting for most of the nation's population growth. At that time, the Hispanic population is estimated to be around 127 million or about 29% of the total U.S. population (U.S. Census Bureau, 2009).

With schools soon to be overburdened with this tremendous growth of Hispanic students, the United States has no choice but to address the high school dropout crisis for two major reasons. First of all, the economic cost both real and potential is staggering. Over their lifetimes, high school dropouts earn about $400,000 less, have higher unemployment rates, and poorer health than graduates. The dropouts from the Class of 2008 alone will cost the nation more than $319 billion in lost wages and over $17 billion in Medicaid and expenditures for uninsured health care over the course of their lifetimes (AEE, February 2009). The second reason is the dropout crisis could impact the nation's status as a world superpower. With Hispanics and other ethnic minority groups becoming the majority of the U.S. population in the next two decades, the potential exists for an undereducated workforce which may not be able to compete in a global economy, especially with the increased focus on technology. The purpose of this exploratory study is to identify possible reasons for Hispanic parents' lack of involvement in their children's learning process which contributes to excessive high school dropout rates and to also determine if it can be explained by Hofstede's Model of Cultural Dimensions.

Review of the Literature

There is no question that students play the primary role when making the decision to drop out of high school, but for the purposes of this study, the main focus was on outside influences to the problem. Although the major intent of this paper is to look at reasons for parents' lack of involvement in their children's education, the literature uncovered different themes which were grouped into three dropout factors: (a) environmental, (b) school system, and (c) parental involvement. These categories will be looked at shortly, but first it is necessary to determine if the dropout rate is as high as advertised.

Many statistics segregate U.S. born dropouts from foreign born, country of origin or generational level. Fry ("High School Dropout Rates," 2003) states that figuring dropout rates for Hispanics is a convoluted process because as many as 33% are foreign born, and their countries of origin have much lower rates of secondary school completion than the U.S. As a result, many are not academically prepared to enter U.S. high schools, so they struggle and eventually drop out, or in some cases never enroll. Furthermore, Fry points out that many of these immigrants have very limited spoken English abilities and most do not gain English fluency until age 16. By that time, they are so far behind they face hopeless odds of catching up and either voluntarily drop out, or end up encountering age limitations that force them out.

In a follow-up study by Fry ("Hispanic Youth Dropping out of U.S. Schools," 2003), he concluded that the aggregate Hispanic high school dropout rate of 21% published in 2000, was overstated. This resulted from the lumping together of three subgroups of Hispanic youths (a) the native born, (b) foreign-born who attend U.S. schools, and (c) foreign-born who emigrate primarily for employment and do not enroll in U.S. schools. When the first two categories are examined separately, the rate becomes 15%. Although this is substantially smaller, it is still twice as high as the dropout rate for comparable non-Hispanic whites. Almost all growth in the number of U.S. teens over the next 20 years will be Hispanic, so it is imperative that this negative trend is reversed. Despite how the dropout percentages are sliced and diced, the bottom line is if Hispanic youths are living in the United States, regardless of category, they all need to be counted towards the overall dropout rate so that the problem can be addressed as a whole. The next step is to look at the themes that developed in the literature.

Environmental Issues that Contribute to the Dropout Rate

Reyes' (1993) study followed up on low and high risk Hispanic high school students a year after their expected graduation rate. She found that low-risk students completed school at a much higher rate than high risk students. She then looked at one of the major reasons that lead to school failure for young Hispanics; specifically, their exposure to numerous stressful life events which places them at high risk for dropping out. For example, their neighborhoods may experience higher than average crime rates, unemployment, drugs, gangs, teen pregnancies, welfare dependency, etc. As a result, these students sometimes have a more difficult time adjusting to a school environment. This could lead to excessive absenteeism, truancy, and an eventual transfer to night school or a Graduate Equivalency Diploma program. The stressful life events also influence family decisions to relocate which contributes further to the instability of student's academic performance. Whether moving out of state or back to their country of origin, parents relocate children who are experiencing behavioral problems at home or school and take them out of the stressful environment, especially if the children get involved with gangs or drugs. Unfortunately, it appears that parents' involvement with their children's education, regardless of environment, could have been a determining factor as to whether that child graduated or not.

Perreira and Harris (2006) considered assimilation theories as a possible contributor to high school dropout rates. The Straight-Line hypothesis predicts ethnic differences will diminish over time as immigrants are acculturated into society. Thus, the first generation will have the highest dropout rates, the second generation will have the next highest, and each subsequent generation will have less than the previous. The Accommodation or Selective Assimilation hypothesis predicts the exact opposite educational trajectory as the straight-line approach. According to this theory, as immigrant youth assimilate with their U.S. born peers, they lose the protective qualities of ethnic cultural norms instilled in them by their parents. As a result, this theory predicts that first-generation youth will have the highest levels of academic achievement and lower dropout rates, whereas second-or higher generation youth will have the lowest levels of academic achievement and the highest dropout rates. Results of this study revealed that first-generation Hispanic immigrants graduated from high school at higher rates than their parents, but these initial gains in educational attainment relative to their parents decreased in the second generation. By the third and higher generation, Hispanic youths had higher dropout rates than their parents. This finding does not correspond with straight-line assimilation theory, but instead provides strong support for the selective and segmented assimilation hypothesis.

Sterns and Glennie (2006) studied a group of 9th and 10th grade dropouts in North Carolina and discovered that Hispanic students have the highest early dropout rate among all ethnic groups. The implications can have negative consequences for individuals throughout their lives. On average, high school dropouts are less likely to be employed than other adults, have poorer mental and physical health, a greater likelihood of committing criminal acts, and a higher likelihood of becoming dependent on welfare and other government programs than people with higher educational attainment. Much of the Hispanics' high dropout rate can be traced to disadvantages in socioeconomic status, family structure, and negative academic experiences. The authors determined the following reasons for dropping out: (a) academic problems, (b) discipline, (c) employment, (d) family issues, (e) transitory lifestyle, and (f) unknown. The problem with this study is "unknown" reason accounts for 58% of the overall sample. Until these reasons are known, prevention programs cannot be established to meet student needs.

School System Related Issues that Contribute to the Dropout Rate

According to Martinez and DeGarmo (2004), many school systems around the country are not prepared to address the needs of an increasingly culturally pluralistic student population. As a result, Latinos are overrepresented in samples of families at risk for poor behavioral and mental health problems, and their dropout rates are three times greater than white non-Latino students. Research linking acculturation with school success for Latino youngsters has shown that factors such as recent immigration and limited English proficiency increase the risk of dropping out for Latino students. Latino parents also reported more barriers to participation in their children's school than non-Latino parents. Additionally, Latino parents also had more difficulty helping with homework and Latino youngsters reported less availability of social support than non-Latino youngsters. A significant finding revealed that academic encouragement by parents and school staff members served as a key protective factor in promoting school success for Latino youths. In closing, the author suggested that teachers and administrators need to be better equipped to deal with increasingly diverse classrooms. For example, they need to increase their expertise in diversity, gain access to culturally inclusive curriculum materials, and be willing to adapt standard materials when such multicultural curriculum is unavailable. More importantly, they need to develop intervention strategies to involve parents and enhance their abilities to promote success for their children.

A study by Christle, Jolivette, and Nelson (2007) examined dropout rates in Kentucky high schools using both quantitative and qualitative procedures. The findings reflected that attendance rates were negatively correlated with dropout rates in this study. This finding supports the observation that students who feel a sense of belonging and connection with the school are less likely to drop out. Additionally, the ethnic background of the student body was related to dropout rate in this study; the higher the dropout rates, the lower the percentage of white students. Furthermore, 46% of Black and 39% of Hispanic students attended schools where graduation is not the norm. Teachers are also an important source of social capital for students. Teachers in low dropout schools showed interest in the students, had sufficient support from administrators, and made positive relationships a high priority in the classroom. Finally, dropping out of high school is not an impulsive action, but rather a cumulative process. Unsuccessful school experiences, such as academic failure, grade retention, absenteeism, behavior and discipline problems, and transfers from one school to another build on one another to eventually alienate the student from school. By identifying differences between high schools with high dropout rates and low dropout rates, schools can implement policies and procedures to engage students and facilitate their success.

Rodriguez (2008) discovered that the Hispanic dropout rate in some large urban areas reached as high as 50%. Looking for a solution, the Governor of Puerto Rico expressed interest in using a popular hip-hop musician to address the issue of school desertion. However, he was highly criticized because of the lyrics of the music and the fact that the musician was a high school dropout himself. Nonetheless, the important point of the study was that the Governor recognized the power and connection between popular culture and young people. Unfortunately, the numbers of Hispanic high school graduates are not keeping up with the changing demographics. Thus, it is time for creative ideas such as this one to find solutions. But what exactly is causing this persistent problem? A study by Valenzuela (as cited in Rodriguez, 2008), shows there is a correlation between certain risk factors and graduation. For example, Latinos whose parents do not finish high school and attend barrio-schools in southern California have a 50% chance of earning a high school diploma. Additionally, more and more school related incidents are being referred to the criminal justice system and school-level disciplinary procedures such as tardy policies are contributing to the dropout totals. Unfortunately, schools' tardy policies lock out students who really need to be in school and sends a message to them that the school doesn't want them there. The author believes using innovative techniques such as hip-hop music to enhance learning could keep marginalized students in school. Since traditional methods are not working, it is now time to look for non-traditional approaches.

Parental Involvement Issues that Contribute to the Dropout Rate

Rumberger and Lim (2008) identified two factors that have a strong bearing on whether students graduate from high school (a) individual characteristics of students, and (b) institutional characteristics of their families, schools, and communities. Within the former category, the authors found that student engagement both academically and socially and educational expectations are the most important determinants for staying in school. Conversely, high absenteeism and working more than 20 hours per week correlated to higher dropout rates. The latter category of institutional factors such as family and schools can also be strong predictors of graduating or dropping out. Living with both parents and more family resources resulted in lower dropout rates. More importantly, parenting practices such as having high aspirations for their children, monitoring school progress, and communicating with the school are strong contributors to higher graduation rates. This is the type of parental involvement needed to reverse the negative trend of Hispanic dropouts.

Stern (2004) discusses the results of the 2002 White House Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics appointed by President Bush to help reduce the high school dropout rate. The commission's report stated that Hispanic parents were not adequately involved with their children's education. Ironically however, the funding was cut to programs that help Hispanic parents learn how to get connected to the learning process. The National Council of La Raza (NCLR) is skeptical about the report which they felt offered no substantive recommendations. They also dispute the assertion that Hispanic parents do not take part in their kid's education. However, what NCLR failed to consider was the fact that parents may get involved, but this does not mean it is effective engagement. You can make a child do his or her homework, but without the proper assistance, that homework may not be correct. One of the administration's initiatives was the "Yes I Can" campaign. Its website promoted literacy awareness for parents. Unfortunately, there were probably only a small percentage of Hispanic parents who had access to computers or had some level of proficiency in using them. Two other points were made in the article to help improve the low dropout rates (a) raise teacher expectations of Hispanics, and (b) improve teacher training. Although raising teacher expectations and training may help, they are not the problem. Teachers can only do so much in the classroom but it is up to the parents to take over once the kids get home. Without effective involvement by at least one parent, Hispanic students will continue to struggle, lose interest, and not realize the importance of education until perhaps it is too late.

Nesman (2007) identified the following factors as contributors to student dropout rates: (a) student attitudes and behaviors, (b) family characteristics, (c) social environments, (d) school structures and policies, and (e) employment/career opportunities. Findings in this study revealed that negative interactions with school officials and lack of support for progress in school as central to dropping out. Negative interactions includes limited amount of time or effort in working with Latino students compared to other students, expressions of low expectations, and discriminatory discipline. Lack of caring among parents, described as limited support and communication about school, was also named as a major contributor to students' decisions to drop out. However, students were quick to defend families providing reasons such as long working hours and family situations such as divorce or separation due to migration. The study also suggested that a family's lack of experience with education reduces the amount of support they can provide for children. On the other hand, the actions of caring and supportive adults were mentioned as interventions that encouraged students to continue putting effort into school. The author also pointed out characteristics of programs that are successful with Latino populations. These include respect for cultural backgrounds, high-quality curriculum and staff, tutoring and mentoring with successful and caring role models, family and community involvement, and native language support along with English language development.

According to a Pew Research Center survey, the biggest reason for the gap between the value Hispanics place on education and their aspirations to finish school appears to come from financial pressure to support a family (Lopez, 2009). Nearly 74% of all 16- to 25-year-old survey respondents who cut their education short during high school say they did so because they had to support their families. Other reasons include poor English skills, a dislike of school, and a feeling that they don't need more education for the careers they want. When asked why Latinos on average do not do as well as other students in school, more respondents in the survey blame poor parenting and poor English skills than blame poor teachers. More than 61% say a major reason is that parents of Hispanic students do not play an active role in helping their children succeed and nearly 58% attribute it to limited English skills of Hispanic students. These parents do not intentionally ignore their children, but because most of them never graduated themselves, they don't know how to help their children succeed. This is an area where parent involvement can make a difference. By encouraging children to stay in school instead of dropping out to work, Latino families can invest in their futures rather than settle for short-term pay-offs. Unfortunately, it is a difficult choice to make for families living at or below the poverty level.

A Pew Hispanic Center report, "Latino Teens Staying in High School: A Challenge for All Generations" (2004), stated the national Latino high school dropout rate of 21% is more than twice the national average at 10%. A significant reason attributed to the high dropout rate was less than favorable family circumstances and the communities in which they reside. Almost 10% of Latino teens are not living with a parent, more than twice the rate for white teens. Parents can often be an important source of motivation and information that promote high school completion. Only 51% of Hispanic children have mothers who themselves have finished high school, in comparison to 93% of white children. Without a stable home environment and parents who can set a positive example or help with schoolwork, these marginalized students will continue to remain at a disadvantage compared to their peers.

Chrispeels and Rivero (2001) did an exploratory study on the effect of immigrant parents' sense of place in their children's education after they attended a series of parental classes. These parents were given the opportunity to learn about the American educational system by attending courses offered by the Parent Institute for Quality Education (PIQE). The first finding from the study was that parents indicated they had difficulty helping their children with homework, especially when the homework was in English. Delgado-Gaitan (as cited in Chrispeels & Rivero, 2001) found in her study of Latino families that "parents were intimidated by the language barrier posed by an all-English homework curriculum. This intimidation is a distancing factor in the parent-child relationships, which is crucial to a supportive system for children." Even if parents had the desire to help, it was not possible because they could not read or understand the assignment. Another reason given by parents for not helping with homework was that many worked, had several other children, and little time to assist with homework. These working parents were expecting the after-school programs to assist the children with completion of their homework so that when they got home they did not have to worry about it. The PIQE courses enabled parents to gain awareness of the benefits of homework and how they could monitor what the child is learning. Additionally, parents learned it is important to teach children to give priority to schoolwork and that dedicating the time could bring satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment. The final outcome was increased parental participation in the child's education, both at home and school. In conclusion, the study suggests that it is possible for parents to develop higher levels of engagement with their children, schools, and teachers. As they learn what is required for success in school, parents can set more specific goals for their children.

Kaplan, Turner, and Badger (2007) explored reasons for Hispanic girls' elevated risk for dropping out of high school. They focused on the relationships between their mothers and friends, academic achievement, degree of acculturation, family environment, self-esteem, depression and ability to cope with stress to determine if they had an influence on their attitudes about school. The literature revealed that Hispanic boys and girls are three times more likely to drop out of high school than white or African American teens. This may result from school practices such as differential treatment, low expectations, and the school's poor communication with parents of Hispanic teens regarding their children's progress as well as family pressures. Hispanic girls' perception of lower teacher support and higher family stress resulted in lower self-esteem, dislike of school and higher depression. Furthermore, De Las Fuentes and Vasquez (as cited in Kaplan, Turner, & Badger, 2007) found that differential levels of acculturation appear to create parent-child conflict which has a particularly negative effect on girls. Girls in particular are fearful of displeasing their parents as they try to assimilate into American culture. The results of the study determined that a girl's perception of mutuality with her mother affected her attitude toward school. Girls who felt that their mothers were involved, understanding, and responsive to them were more likely to enjoy school and have higher overall grades. Not only did the research confirm the importance of the mother-daughter relationship and its effect on school adjustment, but it also identified the need to offer parental training to foster this mutuality, and train teachers to be more aware of the effects of culture.

In conclusion, the literature explored many of the obstacles Hispanic students face in schools today. These barriers affect both their ability and desire to complete high school. There were three common themes found among the barriers that contributed to the high dropout rates (a) environmental factors, (b) reasons inherent in the school system itself, and (c) lack of parental involvement in education. The last element of parent involvement was looked at more closely to determine reasons for lack of engagement in children's learning process, and more importantly, to see if there is a possible connection to Hofstede's model of cultural dimensions.

The following list summarizes some examples from the literature of Hispanics parents' barriers to participation in their children's education:

difficulty monitoring students' progress and minimal communication with the school;

inexperience with educational systems' policies and procedures;

they do not know how to successfully intervene since many are not graduates themselves;

unstable home environment and inability to provide positive educational role model;

difficulty helping children with homework because of curriculum and language barriers;

little time due to economic need to work longer hours and other children in the household;

expectations that after-school programs will assist children with homework; and

different level of acculturation than their children which can create a parent-child conflict.

This list may help explain reasons for parents' lack of involvement, but they do not answer the deep-rooted causes for this type of behavior. Could this be something immigrants brought with them from the old country and passed on from generation to generation? Perhaps Hofstede's power distance index from his Model of Cultural Dimensions can help shed some light.

As stated earlier, power distance measures the distribution of power and wealth between people in a nation or culture and seeks to demonstrate the extent to which ordinary citizens submit to authority. Latin countries, such as Mexico, with high power distance values rely on authority figures to make decisions and clearly separate the roles of authority figures from those governed. The line between ordinary citizens and those of higher social status is rarely crossed, and fraternization between the classes is frowned upon. Since most of the Hispanic immigrants were part of the lower socioeconomic levels in their native country, many may feel they cannot change their status in this country. As a result, it is possible they believe they are destined to remain in the same social class and pass this attitude on to their kids. This type of self-fulfilling prophecy can be the major reason why Hispanic parents do not get involved in their children's educational development. Table 1 displays the reasons for parents' lack of participation and their perspective when viewed from a Hofstede power distance index lens.

Table 1

Reasons for Non-Participation Viewed from Hofestede's Power Distance Index

Parents' Reason for Lack of Participation

Parents' Point of View When Applying Hofstede's Power Distance Index for Country with High Power Distance Value

Difficulty monitoring students' progress and minimal communication with school

Not our place to question authority, the administration will ensure students are receiving everything they need.

Inexperience with educational systems' policies and procedures

Rules and laws are made by the people in charge and they will ensure schools do the right thing.

Do not know how to successfully intervene because many are not graduates themselves

Parents do not engage or confront, especially with school officials. We understand and accept our role in society.

Unstable home environment and inability to provide positive educational role model

Family environment is unstable because of physical separation caused by work or immigration. It is our destiny in life to struggle-it is expected.

Difficulty helping children with homework because of curriculum and language barriers

We cannot understand the curriculum or language, but do not question or ask for help. We assume the authorities will intervene if necessary.

Little time to help students due to the economic need to work longer hours. Also many other children in the household to look after

It is more important for families to take care of life's basic needs than to be concerned about unrealistic dreams of using education to change our social status.

Expectations that after-school programs will assist children with homework

The government will take care of educational needs and anything else they consider important. They have their role and we have ours which is simply to work and take care of our families.

Parents have different levels of acculturation than their children which can create a parent-child conflict

Our kids are not adopting the proper ideals. They try to behave like Americans, but they are not Americans. Their roots are Hispanic and they cannot pretend to be something else.

The literature clarified many of the obstacles that Hispanic students have faced in U.S. schools, but there is not enough emphasis and research on parental involvement in their children's educational advancement. This analysis revealed that the Hofstede model can be applied to this case, but further investigation is still needed in this area. Perhaps a more detailed examination comparing other aspects of parents' behavior to GLOBE, Hall, or Kluckholn's dimensions will help lend support to this study.

The U.S. must get serious about addressing the unacceptable Hispanic high school dropout rate problem. During the next generation, this nationality will become the largest minority group in the country. Without a solid educational foundation, Hispanics will remain in low-wage jobs and at the threshold of the poverty level. The only viable solution to reverse this negative trend is for parents to get involved in their children's education. Perhaps they need to listen more, help with homework, and stress the importance of education more often. As evidenced by the research, the actions of caring and supporting adults encouraged students to put forth extra effort in school. Unfortunately, many Hispanic parents do not know how to get involved so perhaps it is time for the government to intervene. More funding for programs such as the Parent Institute for Quality Education (PIQE) courses will help parents gain an understanding of the importance of increased participation in the child's education. By helping parents develop higher levels of engagement with their children, schools, and teachers, each succeeding generation will learn what is required for success both in school and in life.

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