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Examining the high school dropout rate among African American and Hispanic students

ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 2009
Dissertation
Author: Miriam L Digneo
Abstract:
The focus of this study was the problem of the high dropout rate among African American and Hispanic students enrolled in Westchester, New York, high schools during the 2003-2004 school year. A mixed method was used to collect data in this study. The 90 participants consisted of minority and nonminority high school students who had dropped out of school or who were still in high school as well as teachers, administrators, and parents from the Westchester high school districts in New York State. One group consisted of high school dropouts between 14 and 21 years old and potential high school dropout students between 14 and 21 years old with a grade point average below 2.0. The second group included parents, and the third group consisted of teachers/staff. The study was designed to establish the factors that contribute to the dropout rate among African American and Hispanic students enrolled in Westchester high schools. The results of the study showed that students who dropped out of high school were influenced by socio-cultural, educational, and economic factors. The findings in this study helped identify specific factors that contribute to a higher incidence of dropping out of inner city high schools today to support a best practices approach. This approach included a profile for failure for African American and Hispanic students that can lead to the development of alternative strategies and an academic support plan for this at-risk group of students to help reduce the dropout rate in the urban high schools in Westchester, New York.

Table of Contents Page List of Tables x List of Figures xii Chapter 1: Introduction 1 Background and Nature of the Problem 1 Statement of the Research Problem 3 Purpose of the Project 5 Expected Outcome and Benefits 7 Importance of the Study 7 Scope of Study 8 Rationale of Study 8 Overview of Study 9 Research Questions 10 Definition of Terms 10 Background and Significance of the Problem 12 Chapter 2: Review of Related Literature 17 Overview 17 Causes of Dropping Out 22 Interventions to Prevent Dropping Out 30 Staff Development/Curriculum 49 Poverty/Social Status 53 Mobility/Migration/Attendance 55 School Leadership/ Cultural Diversity 57 Academic Behavior/Attendance/Motivation 60 Social Status 63 Summary 68 Chapter 3 Methodology 69 Overview 70 Restatement of the Research Question 72 Overview of Westchester, New York Public Schools 72 Participants 77 Survey Instrument 79 Procedure 81 Overview of Data Collection 82 Data Analysis 84 Reporting Results 86 Benefit and Limitations 87 Summary and Data Analysis 88 VII

Chapter 4 Findings 89 Overview 89 Demographics of Participants 90 Descriptive Statistics of Individual Items 92 Findings 92 Summary 124 Chapter 5 Summary and Conclusions 125 Overview 125 Summary 125 Limitations 128 Conclusions 128 Recommendations 132 References 135 Appendixes 145 Student Status 146 Westchester High School Student/Parent Survey 149 Westchester High School Teacher Survey 150 Multicultural Education and Cultural Competency Assessment 154 High School Expectation Student Survey 157 High School Expectation Parent Survey 162 Appendix G 168 Appendix H 175 Appendix 1 192 Appendix J 194 VIM

List of Tables Table 1 Annual High School Dropout Rates in the United States: 1987-2002 Total Grades 10-12 22 Table 2 Annual High School Dropout Rates by Ethnicity Grades 10-12 23 Table 3 National Education Association's 12 Dropout Action Steps 35 Table 4 Highlights of White Plains High School Dropout Initiative 45 Table 5 Total K-12 Student Enrollment in Westchester, New York Public High Schools 72 Table 6 Demographics of Yonkers Public High SchoolDistrict 74 Table 7 Demographics of Income by PercentageYonkers Public High School District 75 Table 8 Population of DensityYonkers Public School District as Compared to State Population 75 Table 9 Population distribution by Age (percent) 76 Table 10 Demographics of Participants 91 Table 11 Survey Student Responses 94 Table 12 Student Population Demographics Comparison 97 Table 13 What Are the Chances You Will Go To College 97 Table 14 Survey Parent Responses 102 Table 15 Survey Teacher Response 106 Table 16 Curricula Focusing on Skills Needed for the 21th Century 112 Table 17 Availabiity of Career and Technical Educational Programs 112 ix

Table 18 My Education had given Sufficient Training to Interaact with Children from Different Cultures 114 Table 19 Set Targets for ESL 115 Table 20I am Aware of How Culture Influences my own Attitudes, Beliefs, and Behaviors 117 Table 21 Race and Ethnicity Function as a Barrrier to Learning in the Classroom 118 Table 22 How to Identify Cultural Buas in the Teaching Materials 119 x

List of Figures Figure /.Student previously retained in Grades 9-12 96 Figure 2. what is the percent chance you will have a college degree by the time you are thirty 99 Figure 3. Employment status of student participants 100 Figure 4. What does your school do about students who are absent 110 Figure 5. Origin or descent of survey participant 113 Figure 6. Teacher Responses involving additional resources to aid in instruction 116 XI

1 Chapter 1: Introduction According to the National Goals for Education (National Education Goals Panel, 1993), by the year 2000, the high school graduation rate was supposed to increase to at least 90%. This goal had yet to be accomplished by the year 2006, a problem that has persisted for over 2 decades (Fry 2003a). Dropping out is a complex social problem for which there is no simple solution. According to the research literature, African American and Hispanic students are the largest population of students dropping out of high school in the country (Fry, 2003a, 2003b). Even though research has focused on the issue of dropping out of high school, the dropout rate for minority students continues to rise (Halpern, 2000; Hargroves, 1997; Herbert, 2006a, 2006b; Hispanic Dropout Project, 1998; Kozol, 2006), and even though legislation has been passed to help students who are struggling to achieve in school, few resources have been given to support these legislative mandates. Hence, the problem of high school dropouts continues to be a dilemma for school districts across the United States. The school districts in which this study has been conducted are in Westchester County, New York. The school districts are divided into four levels: elementary (K-5), (K-8), junior high school (6-8), and high school (9-12). The target population consisted of African American and Hispanic students in the high school. Background and Nature of the Problem This study was conducted in public urban high schools in Westchester County, New York. The districts are considered to be suburban/urban school

2 districts with a student population that reflects inner-city school districts in the state of New York. The study collected data and experiences from four of the high schools in this district. The community is made up of White and minority residents who reside in defined, zoned pockets throughout the city (Yonkers Public School District, 2007). The structural framework of the community is mixed residential and high rise buildings with a majority of one to two family homes, though there are several two story condominiums and cooperative garden apartments that are very well maintained. Many of the neighborhoods where the high schools are located are still in White, middle and upper-class areas where the student population needs to take two to three buses to get to their school. In addition, many of the high school facilities are in desperate need of repair and renovation (Yonkers Public School District, 2007). Due to a desegregation case in the 1980s, the high schools in this district have undergone a demographic change. Demographically, in the 2005-2006 academic school year, the student population at the district level was about 86% Hispanic and Black, 10% White, and 4.2% other. More than 88% of the students received free or reduced priced breakfast and lunch, and 70% of students' families received public assistance. The ethnic breakdown of the teaching faculty is 65% White, 15% Hispanics, 18% Black, and 2% other. The Yonkers Public School District (2007) recommends the following preparatory course for its college-bound attendees.

3 1. Two-year colleges (Associate's degree) three credits of mathematics and three credits of science 2. Four-year colleges (Bachelor's degree) regents level mathematics three credits; regents level science three credits, foreign language course 3 credits fourth level or above strongly recommended 3. Other determining factors: grade point average and class rank, SAT Reasoning Test, SAT Subject Test, extra-curricular activities and community involvement, attendance, recommendations from faculty members, Honors level course work, College-link courses, A.P. /LB. course work (Yonkers Public School District,2006-2007 Course catalogs for high schools, 2007, p. 2). The consequences of students not completing high school are becoming too costly, both for the individual and for society. The African American and Hispanic students dropping out of high school are not prepared for a purposeful occupation and are limited in the contribution they can make to their community and to society in general. The Joint Economic Committee (2002) estimated that the annual cost of high school dropouts is about $1,300 per taxpayer per year. In addition, the skills and knowledge gained from a high school education are the minimum credentials and tools required to become participants in the labor force.

4 Statement of the Research Problem The problem considered in this study concerns the high dropout rate among African American and Hispanic students enrolled in Westchester, New York high schools. According to the U.S. Census Bureau (2003), African American and Hispanic students are still completing high school at a lower rate than Whites. In recent years, this dropout rate has worsened, and educators and administrators alike are scrambling to identify both the specific causes for this and potential intervention strategies that can be used to reverse this disturbing trend. Complex problems require complex solutions, but many of the initiatives introduced over the years have proven less than effective or, even worse, counterproductive, in reversing these trends. When it comes to young people's lives, there is absolutely no room for false starts and experimentation. Dropping out of school places a young person at a disadvantage in the workplace (Fry, 2003a). They typically begin a lifelong downward spiral that involves higher incidences of involvement with the criminal justice system, lower paying jobs or unemployment, and lower self-esteem than their counterparts who manage to overcome obstacles and to receive a high school diploma( Fry, 2003b). According to Yonkers Public School District (2007), the total K-12 student enrollment for the Westchester district was 24,830 during the 2002-2003 academic year, was 24,618 during the 2003-2004 academic year, and was 24,207 during the 2004-2005 academic year. During the 2002-2003 academic year, these students were approximately 31% Black, 45% Hispanic, 17% White, and 5% other. During the 2003-2004 academic year, 30% were Black, 47% were

5 Hispanic, 17% were White, and 6% were other. During the 2004-2005 academic year, 30% were Black, 47% were Hispanic, 17% were White, and 6% were other. The total number of noncompleters of high school students during the 2002-2003 academic year was 513; during the 2003-2004 academic year, 560; and during the 2004-2005 academic year, 567, indicating that each year the number of students dropping out of high school has been increasing (New York State District Reports, 2006). The national average high school graduation rate for all students is 68%, according to data from the U. S. Department of Education (2007). Asche (1993) indicated that The 1993 National Education Goal Reports suggested that there has been little, if any, progress on the high school completion rate among high school students throughout the nation for the last 2 decades. Increased dropout rates are potential unintended outcomes of several of our nation's current educational policies since the implementation of the 2002 No Child Left Behind (NCLB) federal mandates (Asche). Assessments are being aligned with the standards, and consequences are being associated with performance on these assessments, including the awarding of high school diplomas. According to data from the New York City flash research report (New York State District Reports, 2006), which followed students beginning high school in 1999, "substantially" higher proportions of White and Asian students in their respective cohort met the graduation requirements. In 2003, African American and Hispanic students' Regents examination results were compared to other

6 ethnic groups and the results were significantly disproportionate. According to Garcia (2004), African American and Hispanic students scored lower in each of the five Regents examinations. Since the inception of the Regents exams, it has been a requirement that students pass the exams in order to graduate, which has been a contributing factor to the African American and Hispanic student dropout rate in the past decade (Garcia). The students' positive experience in the school environment affects their commitment to school as much as the academic curriculum. Therefore, a student's decision to drop out of high school is often the end result of a long series of negative school experiences including academic failure, grade retention, frequent suspension, poor behavior, attendance, academic performance, and poor community and family relationships. All these factors contribute to the dropout rates of African American and Hispanic students. Purpose of the Study The purpose of this study was to investigate which factors are responsible for the high dropout rates for Hispanic African American high school students. A mixed methodology was used in this study that consisted of five surveys that were administered to students, teachers, and parents for the quantitative data, and a focus group of 30 parents was conducted for the qualitative data. Participants were from a regular education high school in Westchester, New York. The study examined the variables of family income, the number of parents in the home, parent academic achievement, siblings, and setting, which have all been previously reported as having some effect on African American and

7 Hispanic high school students' academic achievement (Herbert, 2006a, 2006b; Kozol, 2006). The purpose of this mixed method study was to understand and address school-related challenges facing African American and Hispanic students that contribute to the incidence of their dropping out of school. The findings in the study may reveal the causes of students dropping out of school. The U.S. Census Bureau (2003) reported that African American and Hispanic students are still completing high school at a lower rate than their White counterparts (see statistical data in Appendix and graphic representation in chapter 2). . A secondary purpose of this study was to understand how the factors that influence dropping out can be eliminated or reduced and how the challenges facing African American and Hispanic students can be addressed in a way that will prevent them from withdrawing from school. Expected Outcome and Benefits The expected outcome of this study was to be able to identify the school- related experiences that contribute to the high dropout rate among African American and Hispanic students in Westchester, New York. Once known, these factors can be used to identify students who are at risk of dropping out. The assumption was that, if students who possess these school-related characteristics are identified, timely and appropriate interventions can be applied to prevent their dropping out or at least reduce the number of African American and Hispanic students from Westchester, New York high schools that drop out. The primary benefit derived from the research may be that the specific factors

8 identified will provide a profile outlining factors that contribute to African American and Hispanic students dropping out. These data may contribute to the development of alternative strategies and an academic support plan for this at- risk group of students. Importance of the Study The growing body of evidence concerning the alarming dropout rate among high school students suggests that there are specific sociocultural, educational, and economic factors that can be identified and addressed once they are known. Therefore, the importance of this study relates to its capacity to identify potential interventions and formulate action plans. These action plans can be used as a best practices guide in resolving the growing dropout rate among African American and Hispanic high school students in general and as they apply to the schools of Westchester, New York, in particular. Scope of Study This dissertation summarizes research done in the dropout rate among African American and Hispanic students in Westchester, New York. While the study's scope extends to the dropout problem on the national level, special attention is paid to the problem as it affects Westchester, New York high schools and to identifying specific regional solutions to these issues. Rationale of Study African American students receive exclusionary forms of discipline at two to three times the rate of the general school-age population. The intersection of these students' ethnicity and gender places them at extreme risk of being

9 excluded, either temporarily or permanently, from school settings. Multiple suspensions, in and of themselves, activate cycles of lowered expectations concerning African American students and foster the belief that remediation is needed (Townsend, 2002). African American and Hispanic youths also drop out of school at an alarming rate, but Townsend stated, Whether they drop out or are pushed out, the end result is the same. Large numbers of these youth leave school unprepared for either higher education or the workplace. It also appears that students who leave school early increase their chances of being incarcerated, as up to 80 % of the prison population has dropped out of school, (p. 21) Moreover, the achievement gap between African American and Hispanic learners and their dominant-culture peers is widening. In many cases, poverty and other socioeconomic factors have been used to explain the differences in achievement between the two groups, but more recent data have weakened that argument. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (2006) studies have shown that the gap is even wider between the achievement of African American middle class students and their middle class European American counterparts than it is between African American students from low-income backgrounds and their European American peers from similar backgrounds. Given that these devastating outcomes for African American learners are neither new nor near resolution, pleas for school reform are logical. Less understandable is how school-reform initiatives are being played out in schools across the country (Townsend, 2002).

10 Overview of Study This study is arranged as a five-chapter format to achieve the above-stated purpose. The first chapter introduces the issues under consideration, including a statement of the problem, the purpose, importance and scope of the study, as well as its rationale. Chapter 2 provides a critical review of the relevant peer- reviewed and scholarly literature and in chapter 3, the methodology that was used to conduct the research is described. Chapter 4 presents an analysis of the survey data collected from students, teachers, and parents, and the concluding chapter presents a summary of the research, salient conclusions and timely recommendations. Research Questions According to Hargroves (1997), many educators and community stakeholders are concerned with the dropout problem among African American and Hispanic students in the nation's high schools and fully understand that it is a complex social problem for which there is no simple solution. The research addressed four broad questions. 1. What are the sociocultural, educational, and economic factors that contribute to the dropout rate among African American and Hispanic students in New York State? 2. Do the teachers' teaching strategies address the academic and cultural diversity which adversely affects African American and Hispanic students' perception of school and their experience in school?

11 3. What are the sociocultural, educational and economic factors that contribute to African American students dropping out of school? 4. What are the specific sociocultural, educational, and economic factors that contribute to Hispanic students dropping out of school? Definition of Terms Achievement Test. A test that is administered by the State of New York to determine if a school district is meeting the state identified levels of being proficient and complying with NCLB guidelines. African American. A person of color born in the United States or another country. Cohort Rate. The number of student dropouts from a single age group or specific grade (or cohort) of students over a period of time. Core Teacher. The teacher in a school that teaches content area subjects such as math, science, social studies, and language arts. Dropout rate. The percentage of young adults' ages 16 through 24, of a noninstitutionalized population, who were enrolled in a high school program and left without receiving a high school diploma or obtaining an equivalency certificate. Elementary. A school for students in Grades prek-8. Event Rate. An indication of the number of students who are leaving high school each year. This rate is also used to compare previous years. Graduate. A student who has received a high school diploma or obtained an equivalency certificate after completing 4 years of a high school program.

12 Graduation. The action of receiving or conferring an academic degree. The associated ceremony to an individual upon completion of a program. High School Completion Rate. The percentage of all persons ages 16-21 who have completed high school. High School. A school for students in Grades 9-12. Hispanic. A person of Hispanic nationality who is born in another country. A person who is born in the United States of Hispanic parentage. In this study, all Latino students are bilingual in English and Spanish, and could be racially mixed. Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The document developed by the federal government to guide the special education program in the United States. Junior High School. A school for students in Grades 6-8. No Child Left behind (NCLB). The federal legislation that was adopted in 2002 that ensures that all states and school districts are accountable for the success of the students. Nongraduate. The students who were enrolled in a high school program and have not received a high school diploma or obtained an equivalency certificate indicating that they have completed the 4 years of a high school program. Special Education Teacher. A teacher who works with students who are identified as having a physical or learning handicap as determined by IDEA. State Standard. The level at which a state determines if students in a school or district are proficient in a specific academic subject.

13 Status Rate. A cumulative rate much higher than the event rate, which denotes the proportion of all individuals in the population, who have not completed high school and were not enrolled at a given point in time. Background and Significance of the Problem Levine (2002) stated that we are only seconds away from seeing the next student drop out. A Time (2006) report highlighted some disturbing facts. "One million American students drop out of school every year—that's one every nine seconds! To date there are 637,572 students who have dropped of school this year" (p. 2). Among these students are African American and Hispanic students who are dropping out at an alarming rate. Inner city school districts across America are struggling to effectively educate and retain students in anticipation of graduation. Educators have the responsibility to teach and motivate students and encourage them to reach educational success. However, research suggests that the students' lack of educational attainment is partially caused by their interactions with their teachers and their experiences in school along with social distracters. In addition, schools today must deal with the legislation of No Child Left Behind, which was introduced in January 2002; legislation that now measures our nation's public schools and holds them accountable for their low performances. Students are frequently dropping out because of the pressures of rigorous testing throughout the school year. The students who were marginal students, "just getting by," are now at the top of the list of students who are at a higher risk of dropping out (Kaufman, 2004).

14 According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (2006), students in the richest country on earth, the USA, are behind Canada, Germany, France, Korea, Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia in most academic areas. Just 20 years ago, American students were among the best in the world, routinely coming in first in test results. Though there are many great schools in America; there are also enormous problems with the educational system that cannot be ignored any longer. In addition, when students drop out, they are apt to find themselves in serious trouble. Educators believe that every American child deserves the best school possible. A solution needs to be found to our escalating high school dropout rate for African American and Hispanic students in schools in general, but also specifically in the urban schools in the State of New York. According to Kozol (2005), a large percentage of the African American and Hispanic population in the United States suffers from educational, economic, and social disadvantages. Within this group, African American and Hispanic students remain the most undereducated major segment of the U. S. population. This has lead to the escalating dropout rate in our urban high schools across the country. New York ranks 20th among the 50 states in child well-being, based on 10 indicators, including measures of health, education, poverty, and family structure (Kozol, 2005). An Education Summit was held in November 2005 by the Board of Regents in New York State and its Commissioner Edward Mills which brought together a wide range of leaders from educational and cultural institutions to

15 address the challenges of our high school students. The participant proposed that everyone who graduates from high school be ready for work, higher education, and citizenship. However, the accomplishment of this goal will depend on how educators are attending to the quality of the educational experiences that prepare students for high school graduation and the access provided to post secondary institutions (Kozol). Although suburban school districts have reported high school dropouts, their numbers are insignificant compared to those of inner-city school districts. Suburban districts have a hidden fail-safe system in place to prevent them from experiencing the dropout crisis. Educational attainment among this group is higher because of adequate to above adequate income, an abundance of resources, and school districts that are properly funded. These factors positively impact a student's school experience and result in the successful completion of high school (Fry, 2003a, 2003b). Lebo (2005) stated that the contributing factors that focus on the achievement gaps, which are closing for some groups and remaining stagnant for others within the same ethnic groups, will depend on the leadership of administrators, teachers, and students, as they perceive the positive and negative social, emotional, and academic development, and assessment practices used in the high schools. Herbert (2006a) stated that the high schools are not preparing minority students to enter college nor helping them to make choices that will get them ready for a positive future in our society.

16 According to Driscoll (1999), there is a strong correlation between generations of immigrants, native Hispanic students, and African American students dropping out of our urban high schools. The data indicated that students' academic performance determines if and when they drop out of high school. The study examines the association and influences of high educational expectations, past academic performance of family members and family income. Noreen Connell, the director of the nonprofit Educational Priorities Panel in New York stated, "If you close your eyes to the changing racial composition of the schools and look only at budget actions and political events," and added that, "you're missing the assumptions that are underlying these decisions" (as quoted in Driscoll, p. 43). In regard to minority parents who ask for something better for their children, she stated that, "The assumption is that these are parents who can be discounted. These are kids who just don't count—children we don't value." (Driscoll, p. 43) As racial isolation deepens, the inequalities of education financing remain unabated and take on new and more innovative forms for the principals of inner city schools. The leaders of many inner-city schools are making choices that few principals in public schools that serve White children in the mainstream of the nation ever needed to contemplate. Many have been dedicating vast amounts of time and effort to create adaptive strategies that promise incremental gains; these gains are within the limits inequality allows, to provide hope and success to our city minority students. The director of the Center for School Leadership (2001) in New York stated,

Full document contains 211 pages
Abstract: The focus of this study was the problem of the high dropout rate among African American and Hispanic students enrolled in Westchester, New York, high schools during the 2003-2004 school year. A mixed method was used to collect data in this study. The 90 participants consisted of minority and nonminority high school students who had dropped out of school or who were still in high school as well as teachers, administrators, and parents from the Westchester high school districts in New York State. One group consisted of high school dropouts between 14 and 21 years old and potential high school dropout students between 14 and 21 years old with a grade point average below 2.0. The second group included parents, and the third group consisted of teachers/staff. The study was designed to establish the factors that contribute to the dropout rate among African American and Hispanic students enrolled in Westchester high schools. The results of the study showed that students who dropped out of high school were influenced by socio-cultural, educational, and economic factors. The findings in this study helped identify specific factors that contribute to a higher incidence of dropping out of inner city high schools today to support a best practices approach. This approach included a profile for failure for African American and Hispanic students that can lead to the development of alternative strategies and an academic support plan for this at-risk group of students to help reduce the dropout rate in the urban high schools in Westchester, New York.