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Minority Community Leaders and Scholars Discuss Dropout Crisis with Educators

Actor Hill Harper joins NEA forum to explore dropout crisis in minority communities and solutions

WASHINGTON - July 04, 2008 -

Despite a number of targeted efforts, the dropout rate among high school students remains alarmingly high. The problem is especially devastating in ethnic minority communities.

Actor and author Hill Harper, star of the CBS television hit drama CSI-NY,  told educators and community leaders attending a forum sponsored by the National Education Association's Minority Community Outreach Department on Wednesday that helping to improve the self-esteem of young people will help them believe that they have a future and a reason to stay in school. The forum was sponsored as part of NEA's Annual Meeting and Representative Assembly that brings together nearly 10,000 delegates to discuss public education issues. 

Noted leaders from ethnic minority communities joined Harper and ABC's Primetime co-anchor John Quiñones in discussing the implications of the dropout crisis in their respective communities and the importance of parental engagement, adequate school funding, good teachers, and improved policies to address the problem.

According to The Silent Epidemic:  Perspectives of High School Dropouts, "the national graduation rate is between 68-71 percent; the graduation rate for Black, Hispanic and Native American students is about 50 percent, while graduation rates for Whites and Asians hover around 75-77 percent, respectively." Panelists-including Maria Echaveste, lecturer-in-residence, Boalt Law School; Dr. David Beaulieu, director, Center for Indian Education, Arizona State University; Norma Cantu, civil rights attorney; and Doua Thor, executive director, Southeast Asian Resource Action Center-joined Harper and Quiñones in a spirited and provocative discussion of the dropout issue and potential solutions.

NEA President Reg Weaver told the audience of more than 400 that increasingly people are beginning to realize that there are far-reaching implications for students who do not complete high school. "When a child quits school, he or she is probably headed for a life of poverty and frequent unemployment," Weaver said. The NEA president told the forum audience that he is pleased that many organizations have started to focus on the issue since NEA's initiation last year of an action plan to address the school dropout crisis.
The panelists all agreed that while there is little research into why some students who are clearly at-risk choose to stay in school, there is evidence that the involvement of a committed and caring adult-a mentor-can play a significant role in convincing students not to drop out. "I do believe that if young people saw more of us as adults living life from a dynamic point of view, from an energized point of view-from a point of view of belief and possibility-that anything is possible, then they would fall in line with that," said Harper. 

Weaver said the forum was organized to bring leaders and scholars together from different ethnic minority communities to discuss the dropout crisis and identify potential solutions that the groups can pursue collectively. "NEA has strong and productive relationships with the communities represented on the panel," said Weaver. 

"This forum provides us with an opportunity to expand the ways in which we work together to address issues of mutual concern, like the dropout crisis. NEA has outlined a plan for addressing the crisis, and we want to continually explore and implement meaningful approaches to solve a problem that is critical across a number of ethnic minority communities."

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The National Education Association is the nation's largest professional organization, representing 3.2 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators and students preparing to become teachers.

Contact: René Carter (202) 822-7823