Exploring the Relationship between Student Mobility and Dropout among Students with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders

Article excerpt

Students with emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD) are more likely to drop out of school than their disabled and nondisabled peers. Forty-eight percent of students with EBD drop out of grades 9-12, as opposed to 30% of all students with disabilities and 24% of all high school students. Students with EBD are also more likely to change teachers, classes, and schools than their disabled and nondisabled peers. Mobility is likely to contribute to poor school outcomes that contribute to a high dropout rate. This article analyzes school and classroom risk and protective factors that contribute to or prevent mobility and drop out.

Students who leave school without graduating face daunting challenges in our increasingly technological society. Dropping out may be especially toxic for children with emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD). For example, according to our best current national survey data, 73% of students with EBD who drop out of high school are arrested within three to five years of leaving high school (U.S. Department of Education, 1994). This is particularly problematic for some of those youth, including African American students with EBD, who must navigate in an environment marked by police profiling and job market bias (Osher, Woodruff, & Sims, 2002). We will briefly review data on dropout for students with EBD as a backdrop for a more thorough examination of the issue of mobility as a significant contributor to dropout and other schooling consequences for students with EBD. While our data on students with EBD are based on the 1% of students who are identified as having an emotional or behavioral disorder (sometimes called emotional disturbance or serious emotional disturbance), our best epidemiological estimates suggest that these findings may also be relevant to an additional 3-6% of students (U.S. Department of Education, 1999).

While dropouts in general education have garnered the attention of researchers over the past decades, the emphasis on special education dropouts (which includes dropouts with EBD) has increased with passage of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 1997. Specifically, IDEA cites the prevention of school dropout among students with disabilities as a target issue of national assessment. According to IDEA provision Sec. 612 (a) (16), "states must establish performance indicators to be used in assessing state progress towards reducing dropout rates among children with disabilities" (U.S. Department of Education, 1999). While the legislation firmly established the states' mandate in terms of reducing school dropout, dropout rates still remain high for the special education population.

Among students with disabilities, the students most likely to leave school before graduating are students with emotional and behavioral disorders. Students with EBD drop out (or are pushed out) of school at a rate much higher than their nondisabled peers and their peers with other disabilities (Kronick & Hargis, 1998). According to the best available survey data (The National Longitudinal Transition Study of Special Education Outcomes [NLTS]), 48% of students with EBD drop out of grades 9-12, as opposed to 30% of all students with disabilities and 24% of all high school students. Another 8% of students with disabilities, including students with EBD, drop out before grade 9 (U.S. Department of Education, 1994; Wagner, 1995). As with other students, race and economic disadvantage mediate outcomes. For example, twice as many African American students identified for EBD exited grades 9-12 as a result of dropping out (58.2%) as opposed to graduating (27.5%; Valdes, Williamson, & Wagner, 1990). While the study did not specify what happened to the other 14.3%, it is likely that a minimum of 8% dropped out of school before entering grade 9, according to the NLTS data cited above. Similarly, according to the NLTS, 59% of students with EBD who lived in households that had annual incomes of less than $12,000 dropped out of high school, compared to 30% of students with EBD whose families had annual incomes of more than $25,000 (Osher & Osher, 1996). …