The Policy Context: A Profile of the High School Dropout Problem
We are headed for the usual cycle of events in education--the identification of a problem, a "movement" to attack the problem without an adequate analysis, a problem-solving approach that fails, disillusionment and hopelessness about public education. ( Comer, 1986, p. xvii)
To many involved in education reform, James Comer's critique of the standards-raising movement could just have easily been directed at the myriad of dropout prevention initiatives begun in the last decade. The rate of early school leaving was not featured as a critical policy concern in the first wave of education reports that ushered in the reform movement of the 1980s. But, by the end of the 1980s, virtually every major school system in the country had instituted programs and policies to reduce school dropout.
Rreducing dropout rates requires a commitment on the part of school systems to direct resources to and to prioritize dropout prevention initiatives. School systems must also have a base of knowledge with which to design interventions, and to resolve debates over the appropriate direction of prevention efforts. Should dropout prevention efforts be focused on the middle school years or on the high school years? Should initiatives be focused on system-wide changes or on the development of targeted programs for at-risk youths? Or, are early school experiences so formative that dropout prevention efforts aimed at changing school experiences in early and late adolescence are misguided and ineffectual? These questions will become even more important in the decade ahead as educators struggle with understanding the critical elements of suc-