Creating the Dropout: An Institutional and Social History of School Failure

Creating the Dropout: An Institutional and Social History of School Failure

Creating the Dropout: An Institutional and Social History of School Failure

Creating the Dropout: An Institutional and Social History of School Failure

Synopsis

By the 1960s, high schools had become mass institutions saddled with the expectation of universal education for America's youth. Ironically, with this broadening of clientele and mission came the idea and phenomenon of the "dropout." The consolidation of a dropout stereotype focused on the presumed dependency and delinquency of dropouts, with the resulting programs focusing on guidance and vocational training. Why the problem persists is the topic of this study with more constructive perspectives on dropping out.

Excerpt

One of the six goals of official education policy in the United States is to achieve a 90 percent graduation rate by the year 2000. Overlook for the moment the arbitrary threshold of 90 percent and the question of what a high school graduation rate might be. Politicians created the America 2000 education policy, and grandiose statements from them are not unusual. Think instead of why the second goal (90 percent graduation), as opposed to several dozen others one could mention, is one of the six highest priorities of official federal policy. At a summit of the nation's governors and the president in 1989, the zeitgeist or collective political instincts (depending on your interpretation) suggested that high schools should graduate the vast majority of students. The 90 percent graduation goal represents, at the very least, the importance we attach to high school completion (U. S. Department of Education 1991).

At least two ironies accompany this policy goal of 90 percent graduation. One is that the overwhelming majority of students already receive some sort of diploma. This should not obscure the existence of population groups whose members are much less likely to graduate than the general population. (In addition, there are questions about whether current statistics reflect the success of high schools or the growth in alternative diploma programs.) However, the policy target is for improvement in the general population, not reducing inequality in who receives diplomas. The graduation target is thus a marginal improvement over current conditions.

The second irony is that the goal of nearly universal graduation directly conflicts with other priorities in education reform over the past fifteen years. High among the views of many education critics in the recent past has been the belief that schools need to raise standards, set specific requirements for graduating from high school, and ensure that a diploma is a valuable credential. The only way for a diploma to have some comparative value, though, is to contrast those . . .

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