A disproportionate number of Native Americans, Hispanics and students from low socioeconomic backgrounds are among the ranks of Lawrence High School dropouts, two local studies indicate.
Nancy Albrecht, a home economics teacher at LHS, and Sandra Chapman, the Lawrence school district's director for student outcomes, reached those conclusions in two separate studies.
For her master's thesis in education, Albrecht conducted a study involving 41 LHS students who dropped out of school in the fall of 1990. Albrecht worked with the LHS staff to track down the dropouts and interview them within six weeks after they had quit school.
ALBRECHT found that:
Five students, or 12.2 percent of the dropouts, were Hispanic, although Hispanics made up only 1 percent of the school body that semester.
Three students, or 7.3 percent of the dropouts, were Native Americans. Native Americans made up only 1 percent of LHS student body.
While most of the dropouts, 70.7 percent, were white, that figure was still lower than the 88 percent of all LHS students who were white.
Eight percent of all LHS students were black, and 7.3 percent of the dropouts were black.
Albrecht said job-related factors make students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds were more likely to drop out because they have jobs.
AMONG THE 63 percent of the dropouts who worked while in school, students most frequently cited the need to support themselves or their families as the reason for working.
A survey of a comparison group of 25 students who planned to stay in school showed that only 40 percent of those students worked. And students in the comparison group most often cited the desire to buy clothes, pay for a car or save for college as the reason for working.
Also, the dropouts who were employed worked an average of 27 hours a week, whereas the students in school who were employed worked an average of 15 hours a week.
"Research shows that if students work 10 to 15 hours a week, that is encouraging for their academics," Albrecht said.
Albrecht thinks her portrait of LHS dropouts could help with student retention. Before the school can help at-risk students, she said, "You've got to know what you're dealing with first."
MEANWHILE, Chapman tracked the class of 1990 from the time they entered LHS as sophomores through the year they were supposed to graduate.
The study tracked only the students who were enrolled as sophomores at the beginning of the 1987-88 school year. Any students who enrolled at LHS after that time were not considered in the study.
Chapman said a student was labeled a dropout if he or she stopped attending school and LHS received no request for the student's records from another district.
Chapman's study showed that:
While Hispanics represented 4.6 percent of the 86 dropouts, only 1.5 percent of the students in the entire group of 595 students were Hispanic.
Native Americans represented 5.8 percent of the dropouts and only 2.5 percent of the entire group.
Blacks made up 7 percent of the dropouts and 8.7 percent of the entire group.
CHAPMAN'S study defined students receiving free or reduced-price lunches or textbook fee waivers as coming from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. While 18.7 percent of the entire group of students were in that group, 33.7 percent of the dropouts belonged to that category.
"That tells us that looking at low socioeconomic status is probably the greatest predictor (of dropouts), rather than any particular racial category," Chapman said. "The kids with low socioeconomic status are over-represented among the dropouts more than any other category."
Chapman's study also indicates that the Lawrence school district may not be meeting the national America 2000 goal of achieving a graduation rate of 90 percent.
Of the 595 students included in the study, 86 students, or 14.5 percent, dropped out of LHS between the time they started as sophomores and May of 1990 when they were supposed to graduate. That means that in each of the three years the group was at LHS, an average of 4.8 students dropped out.
THAT FIGURE jibes with yearly State Department of Education reports, which show that 4.7 percent of Lawrence students grades nine through 12 dropped out in 1989-90.
Chapman said a disadvantage of the state's method of looking at the dropout rate on a yearly basis is that a student might drop out one year, re-enroll the next year and then be recounted when he or she drops out again.
By following one group of students throughout their entire high school career, "You don't count kids as dropouts until they really are out for good," Chapman said.