Handbook of Schooling in Urban America

By Stanley William Rothstein | Go to book overview

20
Education, Society, and the School Dropout

Charles Milligan

Why students leave school before graduation has vexed teachers, administrators, parents, and students since the notion of education for all became an actuality in the late 1950s. The reality that most students graduate from school has left educators even more preoccupied with the question of why some students do not stay in school.

In the past, as educators attempted to understand the magnitude of the dropout problem, theoretical models began to appear. One of the consequences was the classification of students using one or more factors. Such risk factors supposedly disclose to educators which adolescents are more likely to leave school prematurely. Although they were designed to identify and predict the student who is likely to drop out, no typical profile of a dropout exists. Two students with the same personal characteristics and family backgrounds may both be classified as being at risk of dropping out, yet one will graduate and one will not. Being at risk would refer to the portion of the school population that consistently shows a lack of the necessary intellectual, emotional, and/or social skills to take full advantage of the educational opportunities available to them. Often these students become disenchanted, ultimately openly or passively reject school, and thereby drop out.

School systems and communities continue to point their fingers accusingly at one another, trying to assign blame for the escalating number of school dropouts.1 No one seems to agree on just which adolescents are dropping out of school or how many of them there are. Two reasons why children are dropping from school come to mind: the students lack ambition, and too many parents today find it necessary to work longer hours, thus increasing the time children are left unsupervised by either parent. While these excuses are commonly heard around school campuses across America, they have very little empirical support.

As an advanced civilization, Americans have always wanted to believe that every individual is able to accomplish any goal. Because of the key role of

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