Curbing Dropouts a Collective Task

Article excerpt

KIDS drop out of school mainly because of attitudes and culture. That's why it isn't surprising to learn about the failure of an expensive New York City dropout prevention program.

Under political and social pressure in the mid-1980s to improve the retention rate of "at risk" youth, especially minority teens, New York focused on 150,000 kids in 98 junior highs and 36 high schools. A variety of methods were used: phoning parents, job counseling, after-school programs, counselors for family problems, and so forth. The effort cost $120 million, or $8,000 per pupil, per year.

A recent Teachers College study showed fewer than half the students in the program improved their attendance. More than half eventually left school. Moreover, the study indicated it didn't matter when students joined the program; those attending for three years were just as likely to drop out as those helped for only one year.

There's truth to statements from New York school officials that the dropout problem needs attention long before students reach their teens. …