School Dropout Issues
In today's brain-based economy, where academic skills are valued, increasing the graduation rate has become a top policy issue among educators. High dropout rates are associated with factors such as retention and socioeconomic status. Dropout programs address various risk factors associated with dropping out of high school. Dropout programs may include add-on programs such as after-school programs, or may also attempt to get at deeper roots of the issue through systemic reforms.
Keywords Add-On Programs; Alternative Schools; Differentiated Instruction; Dropout Rate; Graduation Rate; Out-of-School Time; Retention; Risk Factors; Socioeconomic Status; Tracking
At the beginning of the twentieth century, the high school dropout rate in the United States was estimated to be hovering around 90 percent (Schargel & Smink, 2001, p. 4). In 1983, A Nation at Risk, a report from The National Commission on Excellence in Education was published. The authors called for education reform in America, stating that it would be impossible for the United States to continue to be economically competitive in a rapidly advancing and changing world. The report called for immediate action—raising student achievement and high school graduation rates through state and federal reforms. Between the turn of the century and A Nation at Risk, the United States economy had become more "brain-based," requiring increased levels of education in the work force. Today, the use of technology has skyrocketed, and thus, graduating with a high school diploma is now a minimum requirement for most jobs. Roberts (1995, as cited by Schargel & Smink, 2001) estimates that nearly 80 percent of jobs in the United States are in the service industry. Therefore, a well-educated work force is imperative to the success of our economy.
Today, the dropout rate has declined dramatically. The National Center for Education Statistics approximates that the status dropout rate, the percentage of sixteen through twenty-four-year-olds who were not enrolled in school and who have not earned a high school diploma or equivalency credential, declined from 12 percent in 1990 to 7 percent in 2011 (US Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2013). Other estimates are lower. Orfield (2004) contends that less than 70 percent of students who enter high school actually graduate with a diploma. However, researchers and policymakers insist that even the best picture displays a dropout rate much too high for an industrialized nation like the United States. It is estimated that 3.8 million individuals between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four are neither participating in the work force, nor in school (Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2004). In school year 1999 to 2000, the US high school completion rate decreased in all but seven states, while students who were dropping out were younger—in ninth and tenth grade (Barton, 2005).
Negative Effects of Dropping Out
Schargel & Smink (2001) list the problems and conditions associated with dropping out of high school. High school graduates earn 70 percent more than dropouts do over the course of their lifetime; dropouts are much more likely to
• Be single parents,
• Be on welfare,
• Commit crimes, or
• Go to prison.
Seventy-three percent of state prison inmates and 59 percent of federal inmates are high school dropouts (Harlow, 2003). Furthermore, only 60 percent of those who drop out are employed within one year of leaving school (Office of Educational Research and Improvement, 1991). In 2001, only 55 percent of dropouts reported being employed, while high school and college graduates reported a 74 percent and 87 percent employment rate, respectively (Sum, 2002).
These statistics have a ripple effect that influences more than the individual. Levin (2007), an economist, recently used economic analysis to estimate the gains of dropout prevention. He hypothesized, using very conservative estimates, that if the United States were to spend $82,000 on each student through successful intervention programs that increased the graduation rate, every individual who graduated would contribute $209,000 in additional tax revenues, and lower their need for health care, social welfare, and the justice system by $70,000 over the course of their lifetime. Furthermore, individuals who stay in school longer also live longer—the death rate for those with less than twelve years of education is two and a half times greater than for those who completed thirteen or more years (Alliance for Excellent Education, 2003). Once dropouts do enter the work force, they typically earn much less than an individual who has a high school diploma. In fact, the earning potential of dropouts is only declining as the United States economy becomes more skill-based (U.S. Census Bureau, 2002). As of 2011, a high school dropout will earn $200,000 less over his or her lifetime than a high school graduate. The unemployment rates for dropouts is anywhere from 15 to 18 percent (Sanchez & Wertheimer, 2011).
Reasons for Dropping Out
Students who drop out do so for a variety of reasons. The 1960 Project Talent Survey (Combs & Cooley, 1968, as cited by Roderick, 1993) found that dropouts had lower levels of measured achievement, lower levels of aspirations when questioned about job or work prospects, had more negative attitudes towards school, lower self-esteem, and lower participation rates in school sponsored activities than those individuals who graduated high school. Similarly, the Youth in Transition Survey (Bachman et al, 1971, as cited by Roderick, 1993) surveyed sophomores that dropped out compared to those who did not. The study found significant differences between the groups in academic achievement, participation in extracurricular activities, and attitudes towards school and learning. They additionally found that youths who had repeated grades prior to high school were up to 40 to 50 percent more likely to drop out, and the likelihood of dropping out soared to 90 percent when students repeated two or more grades. Similarly, the High School & Beyond survey data found that the more difficulties youth have in school, the more likely they are to drop out (Roderick, 1993).
Socioeconomic status has a large impact on an individual's likelihood of dropping out of school. One study found that students from low-income families were nearly three times more likely to drop out of school than their more affluent peers (Annie E. Casey Foundation, 1993). In 1997, the Department of Education reported that students from families in the lowest 20 percent of the income bracket were seven times more likely to drop out than those from families in the highest 20 percent (Schargel & Smink, 2001). Roderick (1993) reports that students from disadvantaged and poor families are much more likely to have problems in school, academically and socially, and thus more likely to fall behind in school or have to repeat grades.
In 2011, over 40 million Americans had never graduated from high school, and the majority of dropouts are Latinos and blacks (Sanchez & Wertheimer, 2011). The reasons students give for dropping out are numous. Many claim they were bored with school, others had missed so many days that it was too overwhelming to catch up. Some students explained that their work or family responsibilities caused them to drop out of high school (High School Dropout Rates, 2012).
Decreasing the Dropout Rate
Starting in the 1980s, a variety of state and federal programs surfaced and aimed to decrease the high school dropout rate. The most common programs were add-on programs such as preschools, pilot programs such as full service schools, and programs promoting an increase in testing (Schargel & Smink, 2001). These types of programs had various rates of success. However, the high school dropout problem does not seem to be changing. If anything, according to many researchers, the problem is becoming more and more prevalent, especially among the poor or disadvantaged (Orfield, 2004).
There are other factors linked to dropout rates, including socioeconomic status, race and ethnicity, and the conditions of a school and how a student feels about his or her teachers and administrators. Experts have found that predicting dropout is no easy task. Today, a wealth of programs exist to help students graduate high school. The components of these programs are varied, and encompass a wide array of interventions. However, to understand the successes and shortcomings of these programs, one must first understand the intricacies behind the dropout problem.
The actual high school dropout rate in the United States is uncertain because there is no single accepted definition of the term. Dropout rates are calculated in various ways. We will discuss how the term "dropout" is defined and calculated by four different organizations, the Department of Education, the National Center for Education Statistics, the Current Population Survey conducted by the Census Bureau, and the Cumulative Promotion Index., as well as the strengths and weaknesses of reporting data using these methods.
Department of Education Calculations
According to Schargel and Smink (2001), the Department of Education defines dropout rates four different ways:
• Cohort, and
• High school completion.
Event dropout is calculated by the percentage of students who leave high school, even if they receive a General Equivalency Diploma (GED) later. Status dropout rate is calculated within a specific age range. For example, a status dropout rate might be recorded as, "On January 1, 2007, fifteen percent of all students ages sixteen through twenty-four were either not enrolled, or had not completed high school." A cohort rate is calculated when the same group of students is followed over a period of time, such as, "In the 1997 cohort, 85 percent of students graduated high school." Finally, the Department of Education calculates high school completion rate as the proportion of eighteen to twenty-four year olds who have completed high school, or received a GED (Schargel & Smink, 2001).
While the Department of Education gathers dropout data, there is no federal supervision of data reporting. Orfield (2004) cautions that much of the available graduation data is grossly misrepresented and inaccurate due to the vagueness of the definitions, as well as the lack of oversight in enforcing the accuracy of reporting.
The National Center for Education Statistics defines a dropout through the following criteria:
• The individual was enrolled in school during the previous school year, but was not enrolled by October 1 of the current school year, and was expected to be;...
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