Examining the Relationship Between School Experiences and School Dropout: The Fall River Study
Previous research has clearly shown that the school experiences of dropouts reflect an array of poor educational outcomes. By the tenth grade, youths who will later drop out of school are, on average, doing poorly in school, are more likely than graduates to report having discipline problems and lower attendance, and are more likely than graduates to have repeated grades previous to high school. For policymakers, these comparisons raise several questions: What role did a youth's school experiences play in the development of this poor performance and disengagement from school? Are the differences between dropouts and graduates that we observe at the tenth grade reflected throughout their school careers? Are there critical points during which the school career paths of dropouts and graduates diverge? And, how do grade retention policies, curriculum tracking, or aspects of the organization of schools influence the chances that a youth will drop out? The purpose of the Fall River study is to address these questions through an analysis of the school experiences of one cohort of youths. This chapter describes the Fall River data set and the general methodological and statistical approach that will be used in the chapters that follow.
The next three chapters present the findings with regard to overall trends in school career paths of dropouts and graduates; the impact of a youth's experiences following the school transitions to middle school and to high school on later school outcomes; and the association between grade retention and early school leaving. More broadly, we want to explore the degree of evidence for three alternative policy perspectives regarding school-based dropout prevention efforts. This chapter begins with a discussion of these three perspectives and what they predict we