Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Why kids drop out of school

High School Dropouts: The Silent Epidemic
By George E. Curry

If you listen carefully, you still can’t hear it. It’s the sound of a third of high school students dropping out before receiving their diploma. For people of color, the figure is almost 50 percent and that has profound implications not only for the students, but for the society that failed them.

“The Silent Epidemic: Perspectives of High School Dropouts” is an important report on the dropout problem told from the viewpoints of true experts – the students themselves. The study, which focuses on polling and focus groups, is a joint project by the Civic Enterprises and Peter D. Hart Research Associates for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

In 2003, about 3.5 million youth 16 to 25 did not have a high school diploma and were not enrolled in school.

The report begins with “An Open Letter to the American People” that gets directly to the point: “There is a high school dropout epidemic in America. Each year, almost one third of all public high school students – and nearly one half of all blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans – fail to graduate from public high school with their class. Many of these students abandon school with less than two years to complete their high school education.”

And society has plenty of reasons to care.

“The decision to drop out is a dangerous one for the student,” the report continued. “Dropouts are much more likely than their peers who graduate to be unemployed, living in poverty, receiving public assistance, in prison, on death row, unhealthy, divorced and single parents with children who drop out from high school themselves.”

The report on this silent epidemic allows us to listen to what those who quit say about their predicament.

“The central message of this report is that while some students drop out because of significant academic challenges, most dropouts are students who could have, and believe they could have, succeeded in school,” the study said. “This survey of young people who left high school without graduating suggests that, despite career aspirations that require education beyond high school and a majority having grades of C or better, circumstances in students’ lives and an inadequate response to those circumstances from the schools led to dropping out.”

We tend to think of high school dropouts as being incapable of handling the academic workload and there is some evidence that supports that view. For example, 35 percent of those polled said “failing in school” was a major factor in the decision to drop out. And 32 percent had repeated a grade before dropping out.

Nearly half of the former students – 47 percent – quit not because of the academic challenge, but because they found classes uninteresting.

“These young people reported being bored and disengaged from high school,” the report said. “Almost as many (42 percent) spent time with people who were not interested in school. These were among the top reasons selected by those with high GPAs and by those who said they were motivated to work hard.”

An even larger number of students – 69 percent – said they were not motivated or inspired to work hard. In fact, two-thirds said they would have worked harder had it been required of them.

Naturally, there were other real life factors that caused some students to drop out. Approximately a third said they had to get a job and make more money, 26 percent said they became a parent and 22 percent said they had to care for a family member.

It became clear that the decision to quit school was not a spur of the moment choice. Rather, it was a culmination of growing disengagement and frequent absences from classes.

There was also a significant number of students who fell behind in the early years and never felt they caught up – or could catch up – with their classmates.

Among the recommendations made in the report:

- Provide a more supportive academic environment at school and at home that would improve the student’s chances of remaining in school

- Improve the teaching and curricular to make school more relevant and engaging

- Offering tutoring and summer school for struggling students

- Operate a more disciplined classroom

- Make sure that students have a strong relationship with at least one adult in the school

- Improve communication between parents and schools

And parents need to improve their communication with their children.

“The majority of parents were ‘not aware’ or just ‘somewhat aware’ of their child’s grades or that they were about to leave school,” the report said. “Nearly half of the respondents said their parents’ work schedule kept them from knowing more about what was happening at school and 68 percent said their parents got more involved when they became aware their child was on the verge of dropping out.”

Clearly, we all need to be more involved.

George E. Curry is editor-in-chief of the NNPA News Service and BlackPressUSA.com. To contact Curry or to book him for a speaking engagement, go to his Web site, www.georgecurry.com.

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Anonymous said...

What a great article, when are our school districts and society going to realize that our children are crying out for help. We begin pressuring them in early grades to pass state test and then High School. They didn't start having trouble all of a sudden. We need to make a promise to support these students,I think as educators we fail doing our job every time a student drops out of school. Maybe this article will spark the attention of the chiefs.

DCS said...

Maryann: What great comments! This piece by George is especially timely for me. My daughter, who is in high school, has a least five friends who have dropped out of high school this year. I find this very disconcerting.

These students are not only good kids, they are good students and care about their education. Their school districts let them down - totally disengaged them. The parents, for the most part, feel too intimidated to advocate for their children.

One of these kids wants to be an engineer. All of these kids are very disenchanted with public school education.

All have decided to study for their GED and go on to college.

As you probably know, a disturbing number of high school dropouts are gifted kids.

Anonymous said...

This really is alarming! We as a society should be able control or at least contain our High School dropout rate. The figures are resounding in my head and I cannot figure out how we as a society continue to fail those who will be responsible for the future of our world! As an educator, I feel that the recommendations made in this report should be seriously considered and parents, teachers and society as a whole should make a conscious effort to get more involved!


Deb Sistrunk said...

Kim: It's always good to hear from educators on issues such as this one. I think your comments are on target. Maybe you can help spread the word about this report. Thank you for stopping by.

Carletta said...

This article concerns me in that I see students who are not often taking advantage of the education being presented to them. . . no matter how much time, effort, and creativity a teacher puts into his/her lesson. Yes, the American education system needs to be revamped--especially since kids know that they can drop out at sixteen. There should be options such as vocational and technical schools and magnet schools; however, sometimes these options are limited in many areas. In addition, known to few, these schools are often quite selective. If students do not meet certain attendance, academic, and behavior criteria as well as pass the interview process, they are denied entry into such programs, which leaves behind many of the students I have taught over the years. Whereas, public schools MUST take ANYONE, no matter what.

With the previous fact in mind, that brings me back to a much earlier point: the current American public school education system needs to be revamped! As a teacher, it is difficult to know that I have students who want to be challenged, but the majority want the "easy" way out. They complain because you ask them to write a paragraph (which is your way of gradually easing them into writing a page), when their counterparts in more affluent districts are writing far more. It pains me to hear students who "claim" they are going to college complain about bringing a literature book to class and having to complete homework. It tries my spirit even more when I try to encourage my students, review materials, and really break things down step-by-step and many still choose to fail. . . not because they cannot read, write, or lack the time. Many will admit that they just didn't want to do the homework or take time to study. Many ask for time to study the day of the quiz/test, not because their home life is so hectic or the environment does not lend itself to quiet study, they just prefer to talk on the phone, play video games, or visit with friends. Even when parents purchase school supplies, many still refuse to bring them to class.

What has our student population come to in this day and age? Educators are blamed for having "too many F's", writing "too many referrals", well, what can we do when our hands are tied and education takes a backseat to entertainment in our culture? When will educators--especially teachers--be allowed to speak? When will teachers be trusted to do their jobs as professionals, without being "called to the carpet" by administrators who refuse to take a stand against every possible confrontation or lawsuit from a parent? It is time that ALL SCHOOL PERSONNEL STAND UP IN UNISON AND ACT UNDER ONE VOICE. WE ARE THE PROFESSIONALS. NO ONE SHOULD BE ALLOWED TO GO TO ANYONE'S JOB AND PRESSURE THEM WITHOUT JUST CAUSE. During the holiday season, when sales are down, no one says that the sales clerk is at fault. Instead, we blame the economy. So, why is it that while we realize we cannot control spending power of individuals, that we refuse to accept that teachers cannot MAKE students do anything in a society that has become so permissive?

Therefore, we need to look at the students and ALL OF SOCIETY MUST HOLD EACH OF THEM ACCOUNTABLE. If students do not complete school, what type of workers can we expect to have? If students do not complete school, how much of an increase will this be in our taxes in order to house them in jail or to take care of their food, housing, and transportation? If students do not complete school, how inclined will their children be to complete high school and college in order to pursue more stable living conditions? If students do not complete high school, how narrow will our choices for President, governor, mayor, city councilman, alderman, etc. be? If students do not complete school, how many will still be at home with us parents well into their 30's, 40's, and 50's, possibly with their children and spouse? And on, and on, and on. . .

All I'm saying, is that we must stop making excuses for our children today. There are things that we do at work that is not always (and sometimes never) fun and exciting, but we do it because it pays the bills, it helps our family, etc. Granted, we all want to be happy in everything we do, but is this ALWAYS possible?

DCS said...

Carletta: Your passion for education comes through loud and clear.

Readers: Carletta D. Washington has a newly released book, Educational Reform: The Role and Responsibility of School, Parents, Students and Communities. It addresses many issues related to school reform, including strategies for stemming the dropout rate.

To learn more about Carletta's book, visit her website at http://www.educationfourall.com
or click here.

sanold said...

As a HS teacher of would-be dropouts and adult dropouts, this article reflects the sub-culture of American that lurks in every town and city. I have heard first hand all the comments, and more, included in this article. So now what?
With emphasis on testing, how can teachers take time to investigate curiosity or develop thought provoking ideas? I am interested in views on assisting teachers with core curriculum outside the classroom which will allow educators to bring personal passion back in the classroom to enlightened students.

Rose said...

There are so many reasons that teens are dropping out of school, I have actually polled teens who are considering it. Many site problems at home, boredom in the classroom and they are too tired and don't want to go. When kids are chronologically absent it becomes easy not to go at all. These kids are pleading for help and we need to to do something. Give males mentors who are willing to put the time in, and do the same from these teen girls. Good stimulating afterschool programs might help that provides joy for them. Get them there and you can work with the teen..

Brea said...

This is why I am so passionate about teaching in inner city schools when I graduate. Everyone has the same reaction: "Are you crazy?" No, I have never been more sane in my life. Thanks for sharing this, I don't think the majority knows how HUGE this problem is.

LSE said...

When will my education blog (LSE) find a mention on this excellent blog? A review may be.

tony sacco said...

I was a drop out, asked to go back and I did and went off to college.

Start somthing bold, ask the drop out to return back to school, just sit in class, take no exam's, stick it out and get a your deploma.

joey said...

but have u ever thought about the kids? about how it could be our fault as parents not control our children`s own actions? but who r we do determine our children dropping out at a high school lvl mby we should be more conciderate and let them drop but help them out?....