Rural Dropouts: A Casual Comparison

By Kaminski, Kathleen L. | Education, Summer 1993 | Go to article overview

Rural Dropouts: A Casual Comparison


Kaminski, Kathleen L., Education


The outcry over the U.S. educational system has grown more urgent in recent years as the dropout rate remains substantial (if reduced) and those students who do finish secondary education score poorly relative to students from other industrialized countries. Research into the problem of dropouts has increased dramatically in recent years (Rumberger, 1987), but studies have focused on large urban areas and Appalachia and largely ignored small-town and rural America.

This study examines dropouts in two small-town/rural school districts in south-central Pennsylvania, the Waynesboro Area School District in Franklin County and the Upper Adams School District in Adams County and offers three aspects: identifying a "profile" of dropouts from these districts, establishing their reasons for dropping out, and soliciting their input on preventive or retentive measures schools might adopt. It further seeks to compare the findings of previous urban/Appalachia studies to those which emerged from the examination of responses.

A dropout is generally defined as a person who has not graduated from and is not currently enrolled in a full-time, state-approved secondary education program (Wittebols, 1986). The high school dropout rate has declined markedly in recent years (Rumberger, 1986) from a rate of over 50% in 1940 (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1985) to a current estimated range of 13% to 25% depending on the source. Why so much concern for a dropout rate clearly declining? Two reasons stand out: (1) the rate runs much higher among certain races (African-Americans) ethnic groups (Hispanics), and lower socio-economic-status groups (Natriello, 1986); and (2) entry-level jobs demand more skills now than in the past, rendering dropouts even more disadvantaged than before. Moreover, a link seems to exist between dropping out and criminal involvement. According to Cordtz (1989), approximately two-thirds of the convicts in the United States dropped out.

No specific, set formula explains why students drop out of school. Dropouts themselves cite various reasons. According to Tidwell (1988), the most frequently offered reason for dropping out was that the subjects found school boring; the second most cited reason was the inability to graduate due to insufficient credits. Bearden, Spencer and Moracco (1989) listed 10 reported reasons given by dropouts for leaving school in (rank order): high absenteeism, bad grades, work preference, pregnancy, family problems and boredom for females. Pittman (1986) found that 48% of the dropouts he surveyed listed problems with the school environment as the reason for leaving; failing or below gradelevel followed at 18%. Tidwell's (1988) findings are somewhat consistent with Pittman's: poor grades 39.9%, family reasons 39.1%, below grade level achievement 33.2%, work responsibilities 29.8%, and teacher problems 24.3%. Ekstrom et al. (1986) cited disciplinary and low grades course failures as the most powerful determinant.

Dryfoos (1985) found teen pregnancy an important factor with twenty-three percent of females reporting they left school for this reason. Teen pregnancy has far reaching and devastating ramifications for society as a whole. Polit and Kahn (1987) called for schools to make efforts to accept responsibility for preventive and ameliorative efforts on teen pregnancy issues. Schools primarily prepare children for viable, productive roles in society. The pregnant teen who does not complete her education faces a serious handicap assuming that role. Zabin (1986) as well as Polit and Kahn (1987) saw the need for a two-pronged attack on this endemic problem: prevention as one (programs stressing self-esteem and life goals, continuous sex education, and pro-active clinics) and provision as the other (pre/post-natal, day care, support groups, and parenting courses).

Another study underscored the influence of the student's mother and her education, finding a higher dropout rate among children whose mothers did not receive a diploma (Ekstrom, Goertz, Pollack, and Rock, 1986). …

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