Thursday, March 24, 2005

High School Dropouts

Article from today's Los Angeles Times.

Nearly half of the Latino and African American students who should have graduated from California high schools in 2002 failed to complete their education, according to a Harvard University report released Wednesday.

In the Los Angeles Unified School District, the situation was even worse, with just 39% of Latinos and 47% of African Americans graduating, compared with 67% of whites and 77% of Asians.

Forget the white people for now. Why do Asian kids graduate at much higher rates than Latinos and African Americans? You can try and blame racism (as many people do) but I doubt that Asians are getting any special breaks and they routinely outperform even the white students. Check out California Department of Education's Academic Performance Index Reports and you'll see that at "good" high schools, the student population is mostly Asian and white, and usually the Asian students have the highest API (the report lists 100 comparable schools as compared to South Torrance High School).

I think it comes down to culture and the emphasis that a lot of Asians place on education. I grew up knowing that I was going to go to college. Of course, I also heard the ubiqutious stories about Asian parents getting upset when their kids get bad grades like an A-. When we moved to Los Angeles, we asked friends which school districts were good and then looked for an apartment in that school district. That's how I ended up at South High in Torrance; they actually told us to go to either Palos Verdes High or Pennisula High but we couldn't afford the rent up in Palos Verdes. Of course, rent in Torrance ain't cheap but my parents decided that a good education was more important than more disposable income.

Here's a story I heard from a friend while driving to Big Bear on a ski trip. He told us that he just got accepted to UCLA Law School and everyone in the car thought that was great and congratulated him. He told us however that most of his extended family looked down on him. They though he was a wuss for not going out and work for a living; by work I assume they meant blue collar/physical labor type of work. I think every Asian parent would be proud (ok, maybe too proud) that their kid got into UCLA Law School. Of course this is the experience of only one person, but he just happens to be Latino. This does not say that all Latinos or African Americans do not value education, but I think the fight against high school drop-outs need to start much earlier. If we're counting on Affirmative Action in college admissions, it's much too late. I saw this when I was in the engineering program at UCLA. During freshman year, the population was fairly diverse (for an engineering program). However, by the time I graduated, it was mostly Chinese and white guys; everyone else had dropped out of the program.

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