One in four students drop out of school. Why?

The good news: The nation’s high school graduation rate is at its highest point since the 1970s ― almost 75% will graduate from high school. The bad news: Each year more than 25% of students (about 1 million young people) drop out of school.  From Diplomas Count 2013, a report by Education Week

1 in 4 students becomes a dropoutThe U.S. Department of Education’s annual report prepared by the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES), The Condition of Education 2013, presents statistics that show some encouraging trends in American high-school graduation rates. However, there are still substantial gaps along lines of ethnicity, income, and gender. This report also shows that, as in previous years, annual median earnings in 2011 were higher for those with higher levels of education — for example, 25- to 34-year-olds with a college degree earned over twice as much as high school dropouts.

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)’s report, Education at a Glance 2013, the United States ranks 22nd in high school graduation rates for young people under age 25 ― behind Slovenia, Finland, Japan, Korea, United Kingdom, Germany, Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Portugal, Ireland, Spain, Iceland, Hungary, Canada, Israel, Slovak Republic, Poland, Chile, Italy, and the Czech Republic.

Young people who don’t complete high school face many more problems in later life than do people who graduate. While there has been some improvement, the dropout rate remains high. In 2005,a report from the Educational Testing Service, One-Third of a Nation: Rising Dropout Rates and Declining Opportunities, warned about rising dropout rates and their effect on American society. Many of its findings still need to be addressed, such as:

  • On average, there is only one certified counselor available for each 500 students in all schools and one counselor to 285 students in high schools. More counselors need to be assigned to schools so time and attention can be given to students who are at risk of dropping out.
  • A “bulge” in enrollments in Grade 9 indicates more students nationally are being flunked to repeat Grade 9. This may be reflected in the significant shift toward younger, less educated dropouts than in the past, who face more difficulty in getting jobs.

  • There has been a shift in the awarding of GED credentials to younger individuals, and the program has been revised to make it more rigorous. Read about the new 2014 GED Testing Program >>> 

Franklin P. Schargel, Tony Thacker, and John S. Bell, authors of From Risk to Academic Excellence: What Successful Leaders Do, believe that America’s schools can improve and present examples of excellence ― educational leaders who firmly believe that all children can succeed, schools that effectively meet the needs of non-traditional learners, and educational communities that don’t give up on students who are at risk of dropping out. In their book, the authors identify individual risk factors ― personal characteristics, habits, and experience: family situations, and peer and community relationships ― and then address the factors over which school leaders can more directly influence ― school climate and culture, school connectedness, school safety, attendance, and school achievement.

Risk Factors for Dropping Out of School

Previous School Experience

  • Absent 20 or more times during the previous school year
  • Retained in at least one grade
  • Low grades (Cs and Ds or below)
  • Disciplinary problems or disruptive behavior
  • Has attended five or more schools during a lifetime

Personal or Psychological Characteristics

Adult and Family Responsibilities of Student

  • Has a child
  • Must work to help support the family

Family Background and Cohesion

  • Single-parent home
  • Permissive parenting
  • Poor-parent-child relationships
  • Family receives public assistance
  • Neither parent nor guardian employed
  • Primary language of the family is not English
  • A sibling has dropped out of school
  • Parent(s) did not graduate from high school

Parental discipline, monitoring, concern, encouragement, and consistency have also be linked to academic achievement. Children whose parents consistently set high standards work harder and do better in school. Additionally, an authoritative parenting style, characterized by warmth and concern coupled with boundaries (clear rules and limits) has been shown to have a positive effect on academic achievement.

School-Caused Risk Factors

  • Ineffective discipline system
  • Overburdened school counselors
  • Negative school climate
  • Retention and/or suspensions used to control discipline, rather than addressing causes
  • Disregarding student learning styles
  • Passive instructional strategies
  • Lack of relevant curriculum
  • Low expectations of student achievement
  • Fear of school violence

Excerpted from From At Risk to Academic Excellence: What Successful Leaders Do by Franklin P. Schargel, Tony Thacker, and John S. Bell.

Also read 15 Effective Strategies for Dropout Prevention.