The Truancy and HS Dropout Conversation in DC: Are Latino Students Left Out?


Recently, much visibility has been given to the problem of truancy in the District of Columbia. This is partly because there is an education committee with a new chair, David Catania, who has identified this issue as one of his top priorities. Unfortunately, little has been said about the fact that Hispanics (and ELL) youngsters have the lowest graduation rate (conversely highest drop out rate) in the District of Columbia. In 2012, the graduation rate for Hispanics was 55 %, compared to 60 % for black, 79% for Asians, and 88 % for white students. The graduation rate for Hispanics has been the same for reporting years 2011 and 2012.

To get a deeper understanding we conducted a broad on-line search on the topic of Hispanic dropouts in DC and examined the District Public Schools (DCPS) website. We found that not much is known or documented about the particular factors that contribute to the disengagement of Latino students from the educational system. Neither do we know about the range of targeted interventions designed to dissuade these students from leaving school prematurely. This is the case at both the district and school levels. The information has not been collected, or is not available in the public realm.

Focusing on the high schools with the highest Latino enrollment (Cardozo HS (27 %), Columbia Heights Education Center (64 %), Roosevelt HS (25 %), and Wilson HS (19 %), we found that:

• Latinos have the lowest graduation rate in three of the four selected schools. The exception is in CHEC where Asian students have a lower rate (60 %) than Latinos (62 %). But those percentages are misleading when looking at raw numbers. Only three out of an original freshman group of five Asian students graduated in 2012 but that same year, only 85 of the original 137 freshman class of Latino students graduated;

• Columbia Heights and Wilson have the same graduation rates for Hispanics (62 %). Columbia Heights has more Hispanics enrolled; therefore they have a larger graduating class of Hispanic students (85) than Wilson (41). However, this is not comforting since that school has a greater capacity to address the needs of these students; and

• Cardozo and Roosevelt high schools are considered “dropout factories,” as less than half of all young people who entered graduated at the end of four years. The Hispanic graduation rate at Cardozo is 32% and at Roosevelt 31%.

Thus, as the DC Council and the school officials’ work on the truancy and drop out problem in DC, we hope to see references and follow up actions that address the drop out crises in the Hispanic community. Many of us will be watching. In the meantime, readers please see an extended version of this article at: and help us identify contributing factors.

What’s next? A Summary of your responses!

We want to use this blog to elicit comments from our readers about the dropout problem among Latino students in DC. Readers, what do you think are contributing factors to this problem? What are young people who have dropped out saying about the reason they left school before graduating? What schools seem to do a good job of keeping Latino students engaged and on track to a career or college? We do you think the Latino community should do? We want to know.

Your response will be summarized and reported in the next article of DCiReporter on this topic.

I am looking forward to reading your comments. Thank you!

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Julia Lara is the president of J Lara Educational Consulting, LLC, a small company based in Washington DC. The company provides best practice research, program evaluations, training, report writing, meeting facilitation, and project management services. Prior to establishing a small business, she worked at the office of the Deputy Mayor for Education in the District of Columbia as the early childhood content specialist. She held various assignments at the Council of Chief State School officers (CCSSO) including Director of the Division of State Services and Technical Assistance center director, program director, and senior project associate. Ms. Lara has written extensively on matters related to the education of English Language Learners and students enrolled in low performing schools. She holds Master’s degree from Columbia University in New York City, and Doctorate degree from George Mason University, in Virginia.


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