Many dropout prevention initiatives are attempts to rescue, rehabilitate or revive students who have fallen behind in their studies after a few years in high school.
But the biggest impact, according to researchers from the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research, comes from a focus on the transition from middle school to high school.
A student’s freshman year is, after all, a key predictor of the likelihood of a high school student dropping out. If a student experiences low grades, a lack of course credit or poor attendance, they are more likely to be off track for graduation, and likely to drop out of school in 10th grade. In order to protect those at-risk adolescents, educators need to recognize how to keep a student on track during their freshman year of high school.
That’s why Jennifer S. Cohen and Becky A. Smerdon argue in their research article, “Tightening the Dropout Tourniquet: Easing the Transition from Middle School to High School,” that effective dropout prevention initiatives should include components that focus specifically on the ninth grade.
When Daniel P. King became superintendent of the 32,000-student Pharr-San Juan-Alamo School District he leads in Texas' Rio Grande Valley, the district’s three high schools had been singled out as "dropout factories" in a seminal national report, 23 high school science teachers had resigned, gangs activity was on the rise and attendance was dropping.
The year was 2007, and the district was in crisis.
The graduation rate of the 2006-07 school year was 62 percent, far below Texas' statewide average of 77 percent.
Five years later, the dropout rate has been cut by nearly 90 percent. The district's graduation rate is now 88 percent — roughly 10 percentage points higher than Texas’ statewide average. And about 25 percent of Pharr-San Juan-Alamo's high school students were enrolled in at least one course that could earn them credit for college.
Something clicked when I turned 30.
At that point, I had been away from school for almost 14 years. Since my mid-20s, I’d been tending bar or waiting tables — and that wasn’t bad work, but I couldn’t imagine doing it for the rest of my life.
I knew it was time to make a decision, but I was scared. I hadn’t done anything else for so long that I felt my options were limited — and when I thought about going back to school, I could only remember high school as something I couldn’t wait to get away from.
She only attended high school for a few weeks before dropping out. She got a job working at a Kentucky Fried Chicken. By age 15, she was married and had a baby.
But that was years ago. Now, Debra Duardo, once a high school dropout, is working toward completing a doctorate degree from University of California Los Angeles Graduate School of Education and Information Studies.
And, the Los Angeles Unified School District took away the interim portion of Duardo’s title last week, making Duardo the executive director of health and human services, according to a story published in Ampersand by UCLA.
In 2012, the graduation rate for the Jefferson City Public School district was 84.1 percent, slightly lower than Missouri’s 86.07 percent statewide average.
But being close to average isn’t good enough for administrators and faculty members at Jefferson City High School. That’s why they’re trying two new strategies to help their students reach graduation day.
The first is known as “Academic Labs,” held Tuesday and Thursday mornings, during which students can drop in and get help from a teacher. The second is “Learning Center,” where the school’s educators target at-risk sophomores who need more credits for core courses like math and English.
And along with plenty of carrots, there is a stick: If students fail a core class, they are not allowed to take electives.
Painting a picture of a “typical” high school dropout is not an easy task. The reasons behind a student’s decision to leave school can vary from specific life events, such as pregnancy or work obligations, to no longer seeing a reason to come to school due to boredom or frustration. One thing we do know is that the dropout crisis disproportionately affects high-poverty communities. Low-income students fail to graduate at five times the rate of middle-income youth and six times that of higher-income youth, according to a recent study by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).
So how can schools and communities in these high-poverty areas combat the high number of students dropping out of school? And where does expanded learning time (ELT) connect to preventing school dropouts?
Actor Mark Wahlberg is a high school dropout.
Yes, he defies many qualities commonly associated with dropouts. But even though he’s an extremely successful, well-known celebrity, Wahlberg recognizes the importance of a high school diploma.
“If my career goes south, I’m working at McDonald’s. I’m driving a tow truck,” Wahlberg told an auditorium full of high school students. “That’s why I’m going back to high school.”
Last week, Wahlberg spoke to students at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, VA., about his experience dropping out of high school in ninth grade. He became involved in gangs, violence and drugs — and even spent time in prison.
In Michigan, homeless students and dropouts will have a new place to earn their education and seek shelter.
Covenant House, which is scheduled to open in August, anticipates an enrollment of 150, but it could double that number if needed.
More than 200 school officials from across California attended the largest anti-truancy event ever held in the state, the California Truancy Summit, last week in Lemoore. The school leaders discussed how to prevent — and, as necessary, prosecute — student truancy.
How much does truancy and absenteeism cost the state?
Kings County District Attorney Greg Strickland drew a sharp line from truant students to dropouts — and noted that three-quarters of the state’s prison inmates don’t have high school diploma.
“Dropouts cost the state $40 billion a year, so it’s cheaper to keep kids in school rather than paying for a trial,” Strickland said.
Strickland has been aggressive in pursuing truancy cases. In 2011, he sent a mother to jail for allowing her three children to miss about a month of school.