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What's Driving Dropout Rate For Black, Latino Men?


Switching gears now, it's Hispanic Heritage Month. That's the time of year when we talk about the contributions and, sometimes, challenges facing people of Latino heritage in this country.

And, today, we want to point out a story that has both in the area of education. A new report from the Schott Foundation for Public Education says that only 58 percent of Latino male ninth graders graduate high school in four years. Only 52 percent of black males graduate in that length of time and that's compared to 78 percent of white non-Latino ninth graders.

So that's the challenge. The opportunity is that a number of organizations and individuals are trying to turn that situation around. I'm joined now by John H. Jackson. He is the president and CEO of the Schott Foundation for Public Education. Also with us is Pilar Montoya. She is the CEO of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, which is also called SHPE, and she's looking at ways to get Latino students more involved in the so-called stem fields, which is science, technology, engineering and math.

Welcome to you both. Thank you both so much for coming.

JOHN H. JACKSON: Thank you.

PILAR MONTOYA: Thank you. It's a pleasure to be here.

MARTIN: So, John H. Jackson, let's start with the challenge. The foundation, as we said, has this new study looking at the Latino and black male graduation. Well, everybody's graduation rates, but the numbers that stand out, obviously, are the low rates...


...for black and Latino males. First of all, your analysis of why that is?

Well, I think, first of all, when you think about two of the fastest growing populations in our country and only half of those male students are graduating from high school at a time when two-thirds of all new jobs will require some post-secondary education, you recognize that it's a national problem. This goes beyond just Latino communities, African-American communities, but it's a problem for our nation.

And we believe that it's a two-pronged problem, a problem that's connected to a push-out crisis and a lockout crisis. The push-out are those students who are no longer in schools because of suspensions and the lockout are those students who are in schools, but can't access the critical resources needed to have an opportunity to learn or excel.

Is it that the students drop out and stay out or do they finish in longer than four years?

There are some that come back, but a significant number drop out and I think it's important that - and I like the way that you phrased it - these are lost opportunities for our country and we've got to ensure that they all have a pipeline to an opportunity to learn, so we've got to address the lockout problem, the fact that over three million students have been - were suspended in 2010, out of school suspension, and there's no educational benefit to not having the students in schools, as well as the push-out challenge.

MARTIN: And Pilar Montoya, you know, to that end, increasingly, policymakers have become very interested in maintaining U.S. competitiveness in the stem fields. The U.S. Department of Commerce says Hispanics make up only six percent of professionals participating in stem fields and the numbers for African-Americans are about equivalent to that. What's your experience of this? Why do you think that is?

MONTOYA: Well, the reason why the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers even exists is because, when we really talk about the economic potential that this country has, it really is going to be in the science, technology, engineering and math. As a matter of fact, jobs requiring science, technology and engineering degrees are going to be growing four times as fast as the overall job growth.

What we also know is that we are not doing a good enough job of educating our own students in this country to get stem degrees. Many companies are going to other countries to get their talent. In the U.S., we graduate 70,000 engineers, China 500,000 and India 200,000. We are not even beginning to compete, so our message is that we want our students, our talent here in the U.S. to be the future of this nation.

MARTIN: I think I hear what you're saying. I think what you're saying is that the challenge of not enough participation in the stem fields is a national challenge. It goes beyond...

MONTOYA: It's a national imperative.

MARTIN: ...ethnicity, but when you've got the two largest minority groups in the country - let's just put it that way - Latinos and African-Americans not participating in numbers in anywhere near commensurate with their presence in the population in these critical fields. I see what you're saying. That's a problem. Why is there this underrepresentation?

MONTOYA: We need to do a much better job of really educating our communities about the opportunities that exist. They don't know that engineering jobs are there. They don't know what an engineer may be.

So what we're trying to do as an organization is we are really mobilizing and inspiring our whole community coming together, the corporations, the universities, the teachers. We have a mentoring program initiative that we've launched. We're inviting companies to come and really be the ones that are role models to these students. We are also - we have a network of 318 chapters that are university and professionals that are currently in the stem field. They're the soldiers on the ground that are going to be going into the high schools and middle schools inspiring these kids to see that there is a future if you graduate from high school, go into college and, if you go into college, studying science, engineering and math, the likelihood is that there is going to be millions of jobs, companies that are going to be looking for your talent.

And an engineer graduating out of college is going to make about $80,000. We need to do a much better job to inspire these kids to see that they have the potential of actually getting those degrees and we also need to do a much better job of educating the parents of the opportunities.

Many of these kids will come home and say, I want to go to college, and the parent will go, I can't afford it. But there are resources out there. I know Congressman (unintelligible) and many others have really worked very hard to get Pell grants and get funding so that these students have the capacity to go into college.

And it is working. We've had an increase in Hispanics going into college. What we do now is we really want to get those kids and support them, mentor them, give them the guidance so that they keep their GPAs up and they ultimately end up being the talent that this nation needs for stem.

MARTIN: We're talking with Pilar Montoya. She's CEO of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers. Also with us, John H. Jackson, president and CEO of the Schott Foundation for Public Education. He's recently presented new findings showing that African-American and Latino males are not graduating from high school in four years.

So, John H. Jackson, in the couple of minutes that we have left, what has your research found? Are there some keys to turning this around that you think that people can build upon? I know that one of the things that you've reported in your research is that keeping kids engaged in school from a very early age is critical. What are some other things you'd like to point out?

JACKSON: Well, absolutely. We have to ensure that all students have access to early education and are on grade level reading by third grade. We have to ensure that we stop pushing our students out. You know, when you go to a place like Pasadena, Texas, where 77 percent of the Latino students were suspended at least once, that's a push-out problem.

So that's why we're calling for a national moratorium on out-of-school suspension and, for those students who are behind, we believe that they should have a personal opportunity plan, an education plan that gives them the additional academic, social and health supports needed to catch up.

MARTIN: Do you feel that there's enough conversation about this going on during this election year? I mean, it's interesting to me that, at both major party political conventions, there was a lot of talk about education. Do you feel that there really is national attention to this or not?

MONTOYA: Well, there have been some comments, obviously, that the president - the ones that are running for office and that want to get elected - that science, technology and math is the future, that we have to get our communities to educate and, to your earlier point, we - our organization is really working on supporting the teachers so that they have the tools to be able to inspire these kids to even consider these degrees and we also have an initiative where we're going to be creating 150 chapters at the high schools.

It is all of us working together, the corporations, the teachers, our organization, to really embrace these children so that they see the potential that exists. It's a national imperative. We're talking about the global competition that exists today. The jobs are technical. If we educate our kids, if we embrace them through mentoring, through supporting the teachers, to really working much more focused to get these kids to get higher grades in math, to get algebra classes. That's what we really are needing to do because this is the future of our nation.

MARTIN: John, a final thought?

JACKSON: Well, I don't think you get to a 58 percent graduation rate for Latinos, 52 for blacks and 78 for whites without a level of willful neglect by federal, state and local officials, so I think that this is an - as I said, an American crisis. It can be solved, but we have to begin to push for a support-based reform agenda.

MARTIN: John H. Jackson is president and CEO of the Schott Foundation for Public Education. Pilar Montoya is CEO of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers. They were both kind enough to join us from our Washington, D.C. studios. Thank you both so much for joining us.

MONTOYA: Thank you for the opportunity.

JACKSON: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.