Fall River, Massachusetts, is a moderate-size city of slightly over 90,000 residents located one hour south of Boston. It is a city of hills and of mills and a city of immigrants. Students in Fall River public schools attend neighborhood elementary schools beginning in kindergarten. They go to the Talbot, the Henry Lord, the Morton, or the Kuss for middle school, and then, in ninth grade, they come together on the north side of the city to attend BMC Durfee High School. BMC Durfee High School of Fall River, a modern facility, was opened in the 1970s next to the newly built Bristol Community College. At its opening, Durfee High's new pool and athletic facilities, music department, state-ofthe-art auditorium, vocational program, special education classrooms, foreign language labs, and spacious grounds promised new opportunities for its largely poor and working-class students. Unfortunately, Fal l River faces the same problem that many school systems share with the much larger, complex, urban school systems of Boston, Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles. Of students who do not transfer out of the Fall River schools, 48 percent will never graduate. The question is why, and what, if anything, should the school system do about it?
This book presents the results of a study of the Fall River public school's seventh-grade class of 1980-1981. Based on data obtained from school transcripts, I traced the school career paths of different groups of dropouts and graduates beginning in the fourth grade. I also looked more specifically at how the experience of repeating grades and the experience of students during the transitions from elementary to middle school and from middle school to high school influenced their chances of dropping out.