School Dropouts

School dropouts are middle and high school pupils who do not maintain academic performance or cope with institutional requirements and ultimately leave the school system without graduating. Often dropouts are influenced by additional factors and problems arising in their family or social environment. School dropout rates represent an important statistic to evaluate the quality and effectiveness of educational policy, as well as the performance of individual schools. Solving the problem of school dropouts requires a thorough understanding of the factors and mechanisms involved. It is one of the biggest challenges in educational reform.

American education expert Sherman Dorn identified several characteristics of the persistent phenomenon of school dropouts within the context of the U.S. high school system. Males are more likely to drop out of high school than females, although this trend is reversed in college education. African American students have higher dropout rates. The socio-economic circumstances of the students' families are closely related to reducing the dropout rate, with home ownership and parents' high school education being statistically significant factors since the 1940s.

A significant factor correlated to the dropout rate has been the changing nature and purpose of schooling itself. Dorn states that while previously high schools were considered elitist institutions, they grew in popularity in the early 20th century America because the availability of cheap immigrant labor forced teenagers to seek more educational qualifications, rather than go straight into lower-paid jobs. Later in the century, activism against child labor and a concern for the students' personal well-being led to new attitudes in favor of high school education. From the 1960s, universal high school attendance and graduation became a deeply entrenched ideal fueled by a growing middle class and new demand for skilled labor.

Dorn states that the phrase "school dropout," was coined in America in the 1960s. This newly realized issue was associated with other public concerns, such as youth crime and "juvenile delinquency." Gathering statistics on school dropouts also acquired greater importance. Economic analysis tried to relate the dropout rate within a larger context, for example linking dropouts to unemployment and the changing value of a high school diploma on the labor market.

Concern for the school dropout problem resurfaced at the start of the 21st century. Strategies for coping with the issue, as outlined by social scientists John Tyler and Magnus Lofstrom, focus on the students most likely to leave school and the reasons compelling them to take that decision. The programs are more often oriented toward prevention rather than rehabilitation and return to schools, as the act of dropping out entails significant costs to the individual and society.

Prevention programs that Tyler and Lofstrom claim to be effective include three which have recently undergone trials and pilots across school districts in the United States. The "Check&Connect," two-year model practiced in Minnesota seeks to engage urban students by appointing personal mentors who coordinate their progress within a support network. The "School-within-a-School: Career Academics," model encourages a focus on vocational training and maintaining longer student-teacher bonds. The "Talent Development High Schools," invests in building English and math knowledge and drawing in support from parents and the local communities.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Dropping in on Dropouts
Bracey, Gerald W.
Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 87, No. 10, June 2006
Educational Engagement and Degree Attainment among High School Dropouts
Suh, Suhyun; Suh, Jingyo.
Educational Research Quarterly, Vol. 29, No. 3, March 2006
Predictors of Categorical At-Risk High School Dropouts
Suh, Suhyun; Suh, Jingyo; Houston, Irene.
Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD, Vol. 85, No. 2, Spring 2007
The Matter of Dropouts: Understanding Differences within Racial and Ethnic Groups Rather Than between Groups Is More Likely to Aid Us in Developing Policies That Can Help Us Overcome the Achievement Gap
Ramirez, Al; Carpenter, Dick.
Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 90, No. 9, May 2009
The Path to Dropping Out: Evidence for Intervention
Melissa Roderick.
Auburn House, 1993
Creating the Dropout: An Institutional and Social History of School Failure
Sherman Dorn.
Praeger, 1996
Risk Factors and Levels of Risk for High School Dropouts
Suh, Suhyun; Suh, Jingyo.
Professional School Counseling, Vol. 10, No. 3, February 2007
Student Perceptions of Teacher Ethnic Bias: A Comparison of Mexican American and Non-Latino White Dropouts and Students
Wayman, Jeffrey C.
High School Journal, Vol. 85, No. 3, February-March 2002
Student Retention in Online, Open, and Distance Learning
Ormond Simpson.
Kogan Page, 2003
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 2 "Who Drops out and Why"
A High School Drop-Out Prevention Program for the At-Risk Sophomore Students
Cassel, Russell N.
Education, Vol. 123, No. 4, Summer 2003
Invisible Children in the Society and Its Schools
Sue Books.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2003 (2nd edition)
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 4 "Korean American High School Dropouts: A Case Study of Their Experiences and Negotiations of Schooling, Family, and Communities"
When Dropouts Return to High School: Not All Students Who Drop out Vanish from School Enrollment Rosters for Good. This Study Sheds New Light on the Challenges Students and Districts Face When Dropouts Re-Enroll
Berliner, BethAnn; Barrat, Vanessa X.
Leadership, Vol. 39, No. 2, November-December 2009
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