The Two Dropout Problems: A Framework for Dropout Prevention Policy
In the last several chapters I have assembled a set of facts that describe and distinguish the school career paths of dropouts and graduates in the Fall River data set. I found that students' ability to maneuver school transitions and the experience of being retained in grade had important impacts on their chances of graduating. The question that remains is: What can these findings tell us about the nature of dropping out in school systems with high dropout rates and potential directions for dropout prevention policy?
One of the most important findings of this study is that there are two quite different stories to be told about the path to dropping out among students in the Fall River public schools. The first story is that of early grade dropouts (seventh- to ninth-grade dropouts). These students fit the stereotype of the dropout as a student who encounters substantial difficulty early on in his or her school career and whose path to dropping out is marked by persistent and deteriorating levels of school performance.
Conventional portrayals of the path to dropping out have largely failed to describe the school career paths of late grade dropouts and graduates in this study. In particular, students who dropped out after the ninth grade did not appear to be a distinct population for whom the path to dropping out operated independently of school experiences. The average fourth-grade grades and attendance of late grade dropouts were quite similar to those of youths who later graduated in the bottom third of their class. In addition, the school performance of these two groups followed quite similar patterns as they moved through middle school and into high school.