• The San Juan Daily Star

School dropout rates have risen due to Maria, quakes, pandemic

Dr. José Caraballo Cueto

By John McPhaul

School dropouts in Puerto Rico have increased notably in recent years as a result of Hurricane Maria, the earthquakes in the southern part of the island and the coronavirus pandemic, particularly among the poorest and special education students, as revealed by the study “Some Determinants of School Dropout in Puerto Rico,” conducted by Dr. José Caraballo Cueto and sponsored by the Segarra Boerman Foundation.

The study found that 33,3704 students dropped out of island public schools between the 2015 and 2021 academic years -- enough to fill 95 schools, with the usual average of 355 students.

“The study found that suffering from specific learning problems, belonging to the San Juan region, obtaining low academic achievement, being male, poor and adolescent are factors that are related to greater probabilities of dropping out,” Caraballo Cueto, an economist and business administration professor at the University of Puerto Rico, said in a written statement. “The Department of Education and the entities involved in the subject are recommended to develop programs to address each of these factors.”

Alexandra Hertell, executive director of the Segarra Boerman Foundation, stated that “the Department of Education has indeed abandoned a large segment of the student population.”

“It is imperative to support research that analyzes data from the Department of Education to promote evidence-based decision-making and public policy that benefits children and youth in Puerto Rico,” she said. “The Segarra Boerman Foundation supports this study with the hope that by identifying the determinants that increase the probability of withdrawal, viable solutions can be proposed to concretely tackle the problem.”

Among the data that reveal the profile of school dropouts in recent years are that 59.4 percent are male; they have a poverty rate of 86.1 percent; 17.7 percent have learning disabilities; their average age is 14 1/2 years old and they are mostly in the 10th and 11th grade. The schools in the San Juan region are the ones that showed the highest dropout rates.

One of the biggest causes of withdrawal from school in Puerto Rico was Hurricane Maria in September 2017. The following year the number of dropouts increased by 1,023.

“Hurricane Maria was a natural event that was also a disaster because of the response,” Caraballo Cueto said. “If they left because their parents emigrated, they were marked as emigrants, they are not dropouts. Dropouts are those who never showed up [at school] even though they were on the island. And it seems to me that in that case the government really deserted them as it was not able to have an adequate education strategy for such an impact.”

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