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Full text of "Study of school dropout factors in the secondary schools of North Carolina"

Jill 5 

STUDY OF SCHOOL DROPOUT FACTORS c ^ 
IN THE SECONDARY SCHOOLS 
OF NORTH CAROLINA 



ORAL PRESENTATION 
POLICY ISSUES 



July 14, 1988 



PREPARED FOR 

JOINT LEGISLATIVE COMMISSION ON GOVERNMENTAL OPERATIONS 
OF THE NORTH CAROLINA GENERAL ASSEMBLY 




PREPARED BY 

Research and Evaluation Associates, Inc. 



0)Mv?ibll V| l 1030 15th Street, N.W., Suite 750 






OCT 11 



^ Washington, D.C. 20005 

W B8 < 202 ) 842-2200 






100 Europa Drive, Suite 590 
Utftt* Chapel Hill, N.C. 27514 

(919) 968-4961 



Digitized by the Internet Archive 
in 2013 



http://archive.org/details/studyofschooldro19rese 



POLICY ISSUE #1 
FUNDING OF IN-SCHOOL SUSPENSION PROGRAMS 

Issue 

More than half of the state's dropout prevention funds are 
currently allocated for staffing in-school suspension programs. 
Given the operations and impact of these programs, is this an 
effective use for these funds? 

Recommendations 

(1) Funds allocated for in-school suspension programs are at 
best playing a secondary role in reducing school dropout rates. 
Schools should either be given more discretion in how these funds 
are to be used for dropout prevention efforts or a different use 
for mandated funds, such as counseling support or special reading 
programs, should be considered. 

(2) To the extent that in-school suspension programs are 
supported through state funding, these need to be more closely 
regulated to insure adherence to guidelines and intent. Such 
regulation should include site visits and technical assistance, as 
required. 



POLICY ISSUE #2 
PREPARATION OF DISTRICT DROPOUT PREVENTION PLANS 

Issue 

District dropout prevention plans are being prepared in order 
to qualify for state dropout prevention funds. They are not 
stimulating building-level planning processes and related problem- 
solving efforts aimed at reducing school dropouts. What can be 
done to encourage more meaningful documents and processes? 

Recommendations 

(1) The district dropout prevention plan should be replaced 
with a simplified form for use in applying for state dropout 
prevention funds. 

(2) The application for funds should be supported by school 
plans, which in turn are based on compilations of personal 
education plans and related needs of the students at the school. 



POLICY ISSUE #3 
READING AND MATHEMATICS SKILLS REMEDIATION 

Issue 

Students who drop out for academic reasons have major 
problems with reading comprehension and basic mathematical 
reasoning. These problems prevent them from actively 
participating in many classes at the high school. What should be 
done for these students to insure them a decent education? 

Recommendations 

(1) Comprehensive learning centers should be established, as 
needed, at all schools and for all grade levels, to bring each 
student to competence in reading and mathematical comprehension. 
Placement into such centers would be triggered by results of a 
state testing program; however, no student would be assigned to a 
center without the consent of a parent and, for secondary school 
students, the consent of the student. These would be total 
immersion programs, with small student-teacher ratios, wherein all 
subjects would be taught by one or more teachers trained to work 
with these students in a variety of learning modes. The state 
might wish to purchase or develop a program based on criterion 
referenced testing to insure standardization across schools and 
di stricts. 

(2) Textbooks covering high school materials, but written 
for middle school reading levels, should be made available to 
teachers in special education, vocational education, and extended 



POLICY ISSUE #4 
ADEQUATE COUNSELING SERVICES FOR AT-RISK STUDENTS 

Issue 

School counselors spend considerable time performing 
administrative and clerical tasks at the expense of meaningful 
interaction with students. Too many students are dropping out of 
school before counselors are aware of problems or have time to 
offer viable alternatives. How can counseling time be found for 
working with dropout prone students? 

Recommendations 

(1) As an alternative to staff for in-school suspension 
programs, the state should offer an option of a full-time dropout 
prevention counselor to work with dropout prone students and 
interact with their parents. Schools should be permitted to 
request alternative options for this funding, such as increased 
clerical support for the guidance program or counselors and 
reading teachers for extended day programs. 

(2) Funds might also be provided for the purchase of 
inexpensive computers or terminals for use by counselors for forms 
processing and for accessing the SIMS database. A state-of-the- 
art software package specifically developed to facilitate 
administrative tasks required of school counselors might be made 
available to the schools. 



POLICY ISSUE #5 
THE CRITICAL AGE OF 16 

Issue 

Students are required to attend school only until reaching 

the age of 16. They can obtain a driver's license at 16. The 

hours they may work is not limited once they reach age 16. The 

convergence of these factors contributes to raising the dropout 

rate in North Carolina. What can be done to improve the 
situation? 

Recommendations 

(1) The state should investigate the impact and 
repercussions of raising the mandatory attendance age. 

(2) The state should investigate the impact and 
repercussions of raising the legal driving age, as well as other 
options for restricting car usage for 16 year olds. 

(3) The state should consider placing restrictions on 
working hours and conditions of employment for students, including 
requiring that schools be notified and approve the terms of 
employment beyond certain minimum levels. 



STUDY OF SCHOOL DROPOUT FACTORS 

IN THE SECONDARY SCHOOLS 

OF NORTH CAROLINA 



VOLUME 1 
LITERATURE REVIEW 



MAY 31, 1988 



PREPARED FOR 

JOINT LEGISLATIVE COMMISSION ON GOVERNMENTAL OPERATIONS 
OF THE NORTH CAROLINA GENERAL ASSEMBLY 




PREPARED BY 

Research and Evaluation Associates, Inc. 



1030 15th Street, N.W., Suite 750 

Washington, D.C. 20005 

(202) 842-2200 



100 Europa Drive, Suite 590 

Chapel Hill, N.C. 27514 

(919) 968-4961 



TABLE OF CONTENTS 

Page 
Preface i 

EDITORS' INTRODUCTION 1 

READINGS 

1. Russell W. Rumberger, "High School Dropouts: A Review 

of Issues and Evidence" 5 

2. Larry W. Barber and Mary C. McClellan, "Looking at 
America's Dropouts: Who Are They?" 9 

3. Janice Earle, "Female Dropouts: A New Perspective" . . 12 



4. The Interstate Migrant Education Council, "Migrant 
Education: A Consolidated View" 17 

5. Sally A. Ward, "Student Characteristics and 
Precipitating Events in Relation to Dropping Out of 

High School" 22 

6. Gary G. Wehlage and Robert A. Rutter, "Dropping Out: 

How Much Do Schools Contribute to the Problem?" .... 28 

7. Byron N. Kunisawa, "A Nation in Crisis: The Dropout 
Dilemma" 33 

8. Robert L. Wolk, "The School Dropout: The View of an 
Attendance Officer" 36 

9. C. Gilbert Wrenn, "The Dropout and the School Counselor" 41 



10. Andrew Hahn, "Reaching Out to America's Dropouts: What 

to Do?" 44 

11. Catherine Camp, Dropouts: A Discussion Paper 48 



12. Nancy Paulu, Dealing with Dropouts: The Urban 

Superintendents' Call to Action 55 



13. Margaret Terry Orr, "What to do About Youth Dropouts? 

A Summary of Solutions" 63 

14. Sheppard Ranbom, "School Dropouts — Everybody's Problem" 68 

15. Jacob Kaufman and Morgan V. Lewis, The School Environment 
and Programs for Dropouts 74 

16. James M. Weber, "Strengthening Vocational Education's 

Role in Decreasing the Dropout Rate" 79 



INDEX OF KEY WORDS 84 



PREFACE 



This collection of articles and papers constitutes the first 
of three volumes prepared as part of the Study of School Dropout 
Factors in the Secondary Schools of North Carolina. A second 
volume contrasts eight high schools in the state, four of which 
were among the schools with the highest dropout rates in the 1986- 
87 school year and four of which, while matched in student 
demographics and school size to the high dropout schools, were 
among the schools with the lowest dropout rates in the state 
during the same period. The third volume reviews current policies 
and practices in North Carolina that address the secondary school 
dropout problem, and offers suggestions for revising and extending 
these policies and practices to favorably impact on statewide 
dropout reduction experience. 

More than one hundred articles, papers, and books were 
screened as part of the preparation of this first volume. The 
objective was to assemble a modest reader of condensed materials 
to cover the range of issues, factors, strategies, and 
interventions addressing secondary school aged students most prone 
to drop out of school prior to graduation. Many excellent 
materials were not included because they covered essentially the 
same ground as the selected publications. Lists of key references 
presented at the end of each selection will lead the interested 
reader to these materials. 

The sixteen articles and papers comprising this volume have 
been abridged, condensed, and minimally edited for readability and 
continuity; but, for the most part, are in the original language 
of the authors. The editors of the compendium have attempted to 
retain the integrity of the original publications, particularly as 
they contribute to an understanding of secondary school dropout 
factors. However, since most background research details have 
been excluded here, those interested in basing policy or research 
on specific entries are advised to first review the materials in 
their entirety. 



Barry M. Kibel, Ph.D., Project Director 
Gary D. Gaddy, Ph.D. 
Cynthia D. Williams 



- i - 



EDITORS' INTRODUCTION 



The sixteen articles and papers included here combine to 
provide a realistic, action-focused orientation for confronting 
the problems of the dropout prone secondary school student. There 
are different types of dropouts and multiple factors and events 
contributing to the dropout decisions of each type of dropout and 
to the decision taken by each individual dropout. Hence, there 
are no quick fixes and no singular cure-alls. What j_s required is 
a comprehensive set of offerings and services, varied and flexible 
enough to provide meaningful opportunities and responses to the 
diverse needs of students who are prone to dropout. 

There are school -related factors which seem to make a 
difference with significant numbers of potential dropouts. 
Included among these are early identification and responsive 
intervention through counseling and curricula; administrators, 
teachers, and staff who care about individual students and refuse 
to give up on them; strong vocational programs which explore 
career options, instill appropriate work habits, and provide 
specific skill training; remedial reading and basic mathematics 
offerings, in supportive environments, for those who still need to 
master these essential abilities; and academic and extra- 
curricular activities which afford opportunities to succeed and 
cultivate positive self-images. Where required, a mix of 
alternative programs can offer a bridge between school and work, 
provide a support system for pregnant teens and students under 
other life stresses, and present a second chance for students 
needing credits to catch up with their classmates or to graduate. 

Characteristics of the "classic dropout" are well documented. 
The individual will likely be a member of a racial, ethnic, or 
language minority group and from a family where education is not a 
high priority; the individual will have academic difficulties, 
including the possibility of being behind in grade level; the 
individual will be bored or frustrated with school, and be 
attracted to perceived opportunities outside of school. The 
process of dropping out will often include a growing number of 
tardies and absences, disruptive classroom behavior, and a decline 
in academic performance. One day, the classic dropout simply 
stops coming to school. 

Schools and school systems that are effective in reducing the 
numbers of dropouts do not permit this classic scenario to reach 
fruition. Through early identification, the high risk student is 
not permitted to become just another statistic. Absences or 
behavior problems are not merely observed; action is taken to 
understand the causes and to prevent unnecessary repetitions. 
Where needed, the student is directed to the individual within the 
school (a counselor, a teacher, or an administrator) who is best 
prepared to understand the problem set of the student and work 



with the student to address the problems. Students are not 
allowed to "disappear." When the decision to leave school is not 
reversible, the school points the student to alternative programs 
and options for keeping the door to an education open while more 
pressing needs are tackled. The student is made to feel that an 
individual cares, and also that the school cares. 

The decision to drop out is rarely impulsive, although a 
single event may precipitate the decision for a student already 
bordering near the decision point. Most often, a set of 
interrelated factors will have been operating for many years and 
moving the student closer to the decision to leave school. These 
factors will likely be drawn from the following list: 

o a history of failure in school 

o being older than fellow students due to retention 

o lacking credits to graduate 

o having a low self-opinion as a student 

o feeling like a "failure" 

o disliking school 

o being disinterested in school 

o feeling alienated or unsafe at school 

o not participating in extra-curricular activities 

o lacking self-discipline 

o having poor study skills and study habits 

o being weak in reading and basic mathematics 

o exhibiting disruptive classroom behaviors 

o having a large number of absences and class cuts 

o being in conflict with one or more teachers 

o having a developed set of reasons for lack of school 

success 
o having a developed set of values to reinforce negative 

position regarding school 
o associating with peers who share these values 

o being from a fragmented family 

o having little encouragement at home to graduate 

o feeling pressure from the family to work 

o feeling pressure to leave home 

o being married 
o being pregnant 

o finding work to be more rewarding than school 

o getting involved with drugs or alcohol and finding it 
difficult to study and attend classes 



- 2 - 



These factors can and do combine in multiple combinations and 
with varied weights from student to student. Therefore a single 
response, or even a small set of responses, is inappropriate. 
Instead, the ability of the school to mobilize its resources and 
customize a response to the individual's unique set of 
circumstances is required. This is not unlike other areas of 
intervention, such as working with students with physical 
handicaps or learning disabilities, where individualized education 
plans are developed and implemented to satisfy unique conditions 
and needs. Some individual within the school, an administrator or 
counselor or dropout coordinator, is required to assume 
responsibility as the advocate for the potential dropout, to 
insure that this resource response is mobilized in time and in 
sufficient manner to make a difference to the student. However, 
the burden cannot rest on one individual, no matter how well- 
meaning and skilled that individual might be. A support network 
of individuals, programs, and organizations must be in place to 
provide meaningful remedies and alternatives. 

The range of such remediations is as broad and varied as the 
factors requiring this intervention. Included among the list of 
special actions taken on behalf of the potential or actual dropout 
are the following: 

o programmed, self-paced instruction as an alternative to 

the classroom 
o in-school tutoring during and after school hours 
o smaller classes and more individual attention for 

students requiring this support 
o vocational programs that offer opportunities for success 

and improved self-image 

o in-school suspension programs to keep the student at the 
school, focused on schoolwork, and counseled on counter- 
productive behaviors 

o extended day programs to permit students who cannot 

attend classes during normal hours to earn credits 

toward graduation 
o opportunities to work and to continue studies 
o referrals to local community colleges where the high 

school is no longer a viable option 
o summer school programs that allow students to make up 

credits and possibly also gain work experience 

o drug education programs for students and parents as an 

alternative to suspension 
o teenage pregnancy counseling and services to keep 

students in school as long as possible and to permit 

their return to school 



3 - 



The articles and papers included in this volume cover many 
of these options and provide insights concerning reasons for 
success or lack of success. The Rumberger article (1) notes that 
successful programs often mix academic and vocational studies, 
provide more individualized instruction, and use teaching staff 
that are sensitive to the special needs of the targeted students. 
The importance of counseling is stressed. The Ward paper (5) 
emphasizes the need for some form of "pull" by the school to 
provide a reason for the frustrated student to remain there, be it 
academic or extra-curricular. The Wehlage and Rutter article (6) 
argues that it is not simply enough to keep educationally at-risk 
youth from dropping out. It is more important to provide them 
with educationally worthwhile experiences. The Kaufman and Lewis 
paper (15) stresses the importance of administrators and teachers 
who believe they can make a difference and who also feel the at- 
risk student has the potential to succeed. 

Some of the selections are general in scope. Others are 
specific to a set of dropouts or to a set of interventions. For 
example, the paper by Earle (3) focuses on the female dropout, 
identifying a number of contributing factors stemming from 
stereotypes and implicit biases. The fourth selection is a report 
on children of migrant families, and the factors which compound 
and exaggerate in their case to cause them to have the highest 
dropout rates of any group in the nation. The Wolk article (8) 
views the dropout problem through the eyes of an attendance 
officer, while the Wrenn article (9) views it from the perspective 
of the counselor. 

Editors' notes have been placed at the beginning of each 
article to provide a quick overview of the theme of that 
selection. An index of key words at the end of the volume may 
also be used to locate selections dealing with specific themes. 
The editors hope that the volume will serve as a valued resource 
for individuals concerned with high dropout rates and searching 
for solutions that work. 



(1) Russell W. Rumberger, "High School Dropouts: A Review of 
Issues and Evidence," Review of Educational Research . Summer 
1987, volume 57, number 2, pp. 101-121. 



EDITORS' NOTE: This article provides a summary of a range of 
factors contributing to a dropout decision. The author emphasizes 
that there are varied and multiple causes for students dropping out 
of school, requiring research and comprehensive model development. 
Rumberger identifies some key elements of effective interventions: 
timely identification of at-risk students, a mix of educational and 
noneducational services, and different programs for different types 
of dropouts. 



KEY WORDS: Timely identification School -related factors 

Comprehensive approach Differences across groups 



KEY POINTS: 

It is well-known that dropout rates vary widely among social groups. 
Dropout rates are higher for members of racial, ethnic, and language 
minorities, for men, and for persons from lower socioeconomic 
status. Numerous studies have found that dropout rates are higher 
for students from families of low socioeconomic status. Particular 
family-related factors associated with dropping out include low 
educational and occupational attainment levels of parents, low 
family income, speaking a language other than English in the home, 
single-parent families, and the absence of learning materials and 
opportunities in the home. 

Dropout rates vary widely among school systems as well as social 
groups. Not only are there widespread variations in dropout rates 
among state educational systems, but there are also widespread 
variations among school districts and even among schools within the 
same district. 

No one really knows what causes students to drop out of high school. 
Dropouts themselves report a number of different reasons for leaving 
school, with marked differences reported by different social groups. 
Almost one half of all dropouts and more than half of white and 
black males cite school -related reasons for leaving school, such as 
disliking school or being expelled or suspended. Twenty percent of 
all dropouts, but almost 40% of Hispanic males, cite economic 
reasons for leaving school. A third of all female dropouts report 
personal reasons for leaving, such as pregnancy or marriage. 



- 5 - 



A large body of empirical research has identified a wide range of 
factors that are associated with dropping out. The factors can be 
grouped into several major categories: demographic, family-related, 
peer, school -rel ated, economic, and individual. Within each of 
these categories there can be a large number of specific factors. 
Some are well-known and widely documented in numerous studies; 
others have not been well -explored in relation to this particular 
problem. Some of these factors can be manipulated through public 
interventions within and outside of the schools; others cannot. 

School -related factors associated with dropping out have received 
considerable attention, particularly because many of these factors 
are ones that can be manipulated through practice and policy. It is 
fairly well -documented that poor academic achievement in school, as 
measured by grades, test scores, and grade retention, is associated 
with dropping out. It is also known that behavioral problems in 
school are also associated with dropping out, including absenteeism, 
truancy, and discipline problems. 

Most research on school -related factors has focused on students' 
behaviors and performance in school. Little attention has been 
given to the influences of schools themsel ves--their organization, 
leadership, teachers--on students' decisions to drop out. Yet many 
dropouts attend schools with yery poor facilities and inadequate 
teaching staffs, conditions that could affect their performance in 
school and ultimately their decision to leave. School -level dropout 
rates vary widely, even controlling for differences in student 
populations; this further suggests that school -related factors exert 
a powerful influence on students' decisions to leave school. 
Understanding school processes deserves further attention. In fact 
dropping out itself might better be viewed as a process of 
disengagement from school, perhaps for either social or academic 
reasons. 

While previous research on the causes of dropping out has been 
helpful in identifying the wide range of factors associated with 
this behavior, the empirical literature is still lacking. Many 
studies have focused on only a few of the many factors known to be 
associated with this problem, and many are based on correlation 
models that simply identify the direct relationship between one 
factor and dropout behavior, sometimes controlling for the influence 
of other factors. What is needed is a more comprehensive, causal 
model of the dropout process. Such a model should successfully 
identify the full range of proximal and distal influences, the 
interrelationships among them, and their long-term, cumulative 
effects. Research efforts need to explore the interrelationships 
among the various factors associated with dropping out. This is 
particularly important in trying to separate actual causes of this 
problem from correlates such as attitude: and behaviors. 



- 6 



Researchers should attempt to measure the long-term, cumulative 
effects of the various influences on dropping out. This is 
particularly important given the influences of family background and 
early school achievement. Family background can have a powerful, 
cumulative influence on school achievement through its effects on 
such things as kinds of schools children attend, their attitudes 
about school, and learning that takes place in the home. These 
influences affect a student's achievement at an early age, which, in 
turn, influences subsequent attitudes and performance in school. 

A comprehensive model of dropout behavior should address the notion 
that there are different types of dropouts who leave school for 
different reasons. That is, there is no "typical" dropout. A poor, 
urban black may drop out of school because he is doing badly, his 
school is understaffed, and he believes his economic prospects are 
poor whether or not he finishes school. A suburban, middle-class 
white may drop out of school because he is bored. Although doing 
reasonably well in school, he wants to spend some time with his 
friends, and he knows he can finish school later on at the community 
college. The causes and the nature of dropping out are wery 
different for these two types of teenagers. Such differences should 
be explored further and used to develop separate models of dropping 
out for different types of students. 

Different kinds of students drop out for different reasons. Some 
are related to problems in school, such as lack of interest or poor 
performance; others are related to factors outside of the school, 
such as the need to find work or having a child. A comprehensive 
strategy toward effective intervention will need to address all of 
these factors, providing programs for different children with 
different needs. 

Reviews of dropout prevention programs suggest that successful 
programs often mix academic and vocational studies, provide more 
individualized instruction, and use a teaching staff more sensitive 
and responsive to the needs of the students. Besides these 
educational elements, successful programs need to address other 
needs of students. Perhaps the most important is their 
psychological need for someone to care about them individually, a 
need that is often met through the provision of counseling. 

Schools must be able to successfully identify those students who are 
most likely to drop out of school if they hope to do something about 
it. A recent study of California dropouts found that half of the 
dropouts interviewed did not discuss their decision with anyone at 
school before they left. Timely identification is equally 
important. The earlier a student with a high risk of dropping out 
is identified, the more likely it is that a sustained effort at 
dropout prevention will be successful. Successful identification of 
high-risk students in elementary and junior high school would 
provide more time to intervene and address the needs of these kids 
at an early age. 



ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Russell W. Rumberger is an Associate Professor of 

Education in the Graduate School of Education at the University of 

California, Santa Barbara. He specializes in economics of education 
and education policy. 



KEY REFERENCES CITED: 

Catterall, J.S. "A Process Model of Dropping Out of School," 
unpublished paper, University of California, Los Angeles, 1986. 

Ekstrom, R.B., Goertz, M.E., Pollack, J.M., and Rock, D.A. "Who 
Drops Out of High School and Why? Findings from a National 
Study," Teachers College Record , 1987: vol. 87, pp. 356-373. 

Natriello, G., Pallas, A.M., and McDill, E.L. "Taking Stock: 
Renewing Our Research Agenda on the Causes and Consequences of 
Dropping Out," Teachers College Record , 1986: vol. 87, pp. 430- 
440. 

01 sen, L. and Edwards, R. "Push Out, Step Out: A Report on 
California's Public School Dropouts," Citizens Policy Center, 
Oakland, California (1982). 

Stroup, A.L. and Robins, L.N. "Elementary School Predictors of High 
School Dropout Among Black Males," Sociology of Education , 
1972: vol. 45, pp. 212-222. 

Toles, T., Schulz, E.M., and Rice, W.K. "A Study of Variation in 
Dropout Rates Attributable to Effects of High Schools," 
Metropolitan Education , 1986: vol. 2, pp. 30-38. 



8 - 



(2) Larry W. Barber and Mary C. McClellan, "Looking at America's 
Dropouts: Who Are They?," Phi Delta Kappan . December 1987, pp. 
264-267. 



EDITORS' NOTE: This article discusses the confusion in interpreting 
dropout statistics caused by wide variations in reporting data and 
utilizing withdrawal codes across districts and states. The authors 
stress the need to achieve consensus about the definition of a 
'school dropout' so that meaningful comparisons can be made within 
and across districts and states. 



KEY WORDS: Definition of dropouts 



KEY POINTS: 

Currently available statistics often make it difficult to compare 
schools within a district. It is practically impossible to compare 
districts to one another, to assess the factors that might be 
related to dropping out, or to develop model programs of dropout 
prevention. Consequently, many of the reported dropout statistics- 
local, state, or national --are in error because they rely on widely 
different definitions or divergent databases. 

We undertook the study reported here to show just how discrepant the 
reporting practices of school districts are, in the hope that the 
information we gathered would demonstrate the need for a workable 
definition of dropouts, as well as for standardized reporting 
procedures for school districts. The study population included 17 
large-city school districts that in 1984 voluntarily submitted their 
dropout reports to Phi Delta Kappa's Center on Evaluation, 
Development, and Research. 

Our study isolated the following classification codes used to record 
the movement of students both within and beyond a school district: 
student transferred within the district from one school to another; 
student transferred from the school district to another legitimate 
educational setting; student was removed from the school district 
rolls for cause or death; student dropped out. 

Transfers within school districts are the least ambiguous. 
Occasionally, students who transfer within districts are reported as 
dropouts. At least one of the school districts we surveyed counted 
as dropouts those students who enrolled in publicly supported, 
district-managed, evening high school programs. We found the other 
codes to be far less standard. There was little agreement among the 



9 - 



school districts we surveyed on how to handle transfers between 
districts. Four school districts recorded students as dropouts if 
they transferred from the district schools to a business school, a 
beauticians' school, an occupational training center, a school for 
the deaf, or to private instruction. One school district regarded a 
student participating in an early-admission college program as a 
dropout. 

Tabulations of students removed for cause or for death were 
similarly confusing. Approximately half of the districts counted 
expelled students as dropouts. One district treated a student who 
had died as a dropout. In another district, incarcerated students 
were identified as dropouts, although the district ran a high school 
program at the institution to which the students were sent. Other 
school districts do not count as dropouts incarcerated students, 
students attending occupational training centers, or students who 
leave to earn a GED. 

The codes identified as problems presented difficulties for 
districts wherever they were used. Students who were married, who 
were needed at home, or who were above the legal school -leaving age 
were usually not recognized as dropouts. Students who became 
employed in a field for which they had been trained were not 
regarded as dropouts in some districts; in others, they were. 
School districts were not consistent in their treatment of students 
who entered the armed services, and it appears that there are no 
accounting procedures for emancipated minors. Virtually none of the 
districts had policies for dealing with students who were above the 
legal age when they left school. After we had completed this study, 
we turned up an additional problem code. It is a category called 
"early leavers." Initially, it was set up to account for students 
who left school but had definite plans. In some districts these 
students have been excluded from dropout statistics. 

The variability in record keeping and in reporting procedures that 
we found in this review of reports from major metropolitan school 
districts suggests that similar patterns exist nationwide. It is 
possible that some students are counted more than once, swelling the 
numbers in several categories, while others are totally overlooked 
by the school system's data-collection procedures. 

The problems that we found seem not to be the fault of researchers, 
evaluators, principals, counselors, or attendance officers. Rather, 
policy makers at the state and district levels have failed to 
achieve consensus about the definition of a school dropout. The 
technology and personnel for gathering and processing the necessary 
information are currently available, but they will be of only 
marginal benefit until such terms as "dropout," "withdrawn," 
removed," and "early leaver" acquire generally accepted meanings 
that allow comparisons to be made within and across school districts 
and state 1 ines. 



10 - 



ABOUT THE AUTHORS: Larry W. Barber is director of the Phi Delta 
Kappa Center on Evaluation, Development, and Research, where Mary C. 
McClellan is a research associate. Both are members of the Indiana 
University Chapter of Phi Delta Kappa. 



KEY REFERENCES CITED: 

Spencer, E.C. "An Analysis of the Dropout Problem in Norfolk 
Secondary Schools." Norfolk, Va.: Norfolk Public Schools, 
September (1977). 

Bureau of Attendance, Register of Attendance , Albany, N.Y.: New 
York State Department of Education, 1965. 

Student/Pupil Accounting: Standard Terminology and Guide for 
Managing Student Data in Elementary and Secondary School, 
Community/Junior Colleges, and Adult Education, Handbook V . 
Washington, D.C.: U.S. Office of Education, 1974: p. 117. 



- 11 - 



(3) Janice Earle, "Female Dropouts: A New Perspective," Women's 
Education Equity Act Project Report, Commissioned by the Youth 
Services Program of the National Association of State Boards of 
Education, 1987. 



EDITORS' NOTE: Despite the stereotype, the majority of female 
dropouts are not pregnant or getting married. This study looks at 
the similarities and the differences between male and female 
dropouts. Specifically, it details the differences between females 
and males in socialization, learning styles, teacher feedback and 
curricular choices that put females at particular risk of dropping 
out . 



KEY WORDS: Female dropouts Learning styles 

Pregnancy Differences across groups 



KEY POINTS: 

Girls and boys drop out of school at approximately the same rate. 
Further, although forty percent of girls who drop out are pregnant 
or getting married, the majority of girls who drop out are not. 

Some background characteristics associated with dropping out apply 
equally to girls and boys. These include low socio-economic status, 
minority status, and low parental education levels. Another set of 
background characteristics seem to influence more female than male 
dropouts. These include having a large number of siblings, and the 
mother's educational level. The factors which particularly impact 
girls are early socialization experiences that teach girls to be 
less assertive; cognitive differences in the ways that many girls 
and boys learn; teacher interaction patterns that favor boys' 
response patterns and learning styles; and curricular selections 
that often leave girls without the prerequisite for higher-paying 
jobs and careers. When these factors combine with the background 
characteristics mentioned above, girls who are only marginally 
involved in school may opt out completely. 

Program designers who address the issue of female dropout need to be 
aware that girls may need special attention: attention to enhance 
their self-esteem, attention to remediation that takes into account 
some of the differences between boys and girls, attention by 
teachers to how they respond to students in the classroom, attention 
by administrators to create school environments that are flexible 
enough to meet student needs, and attention by the community so that 
those in health, social services, and employment closely collaborate 
with schools to assure students access to a variety of needed 
services . 

- 12 - 



When researchers identify characteristics that place students at 
risk or in danger of dropping out of school (characteristics such as 
socio-economic status, ethnicity, and parental education level), few 
mention gender. Yet we found that being female puts students at 
risk in very specific ways. For example, although low achievement 
and low self-esteem are associated with dropout for both sexes, 
special factors hinder the academic accomplishments and confidence 
of girls. 

Because girls tend to be less assertive, and less involved in 
serious disruptive behavior, their academic difficulties are often 
ignored. Influenced by sex role stereotypes, girls choose not to 
enroll in certain courses, higher level math and science, for 
example, in favor of fields for which they are not necessarily best 
suited, resulting in a lack of the prerequisite skills for a wide 
range of jobs. Further, because girls are often channeled into 
vocational training program for jobs with lower pay, less prestige, 
and less opportunity for advancement, their chances for achieving 
economic self-sufficiency are reduced. 

Males and females (who dropped out for reasons unrelated to 
pregnancy) gave similar reasons for dropping out. Thirty-six 
percent of males and 30 percent of females cited poor grades as a 
contributing factor. Thirty-five percent of males and 31 percent of 
females cited a "school was not for me" reason. Yet reasons such as 
"school was not for me" or "poor grades," which both boys and girls 
report, do not describe how or why those attitudes were formed. If 
some aspects of schooling harm girls' self-esteem and academic 
achievement, dropout programs should include corrections for these 
inequities. 

Many girls are still socialized to think that they can safely expect 
to spend the rest of their lives married and bringing up children 
while someone else takes financial care of them. They are taught to 
be polite, cooperative, and unassertive. Stereotypical male and 
female roles, stressed during childhood, gain new importance during 
adolescence, when both sexes begin to form the values and interests 
that will define their identities as adults. Many adolescents cling 
to rigid sex stereotypes as a way to cope with the pressure of this 
process of self-identification. At a time in a young woman's life 
when she must make decisions affecting her career and earning power, 
she is often strongly motivated by the pressure to excel in personal 
skills that do not include academic and career planning. Thus, 
societal biases place a female at risk of limiting her options. 

Not only are girls "pre-programmed" to excel in areas other than 
academics, but schools cater to the cognitive orientation of white 
males. Girls learn through cooperation with others, acknowledging 
each other's ideas, and building upon them to find common meanings. 
In contrast, boys are more competitive, working to contribute their 
ideas independently of one another, defining themselves through 
differences from their peers. Unfortunately, these differences may 

- 13 - 



influence students' academic performances, because of the way 
middle, junior high school, and high school classes are structured. 
Most secondary teachers rely on a lecture format which elicits 
individual student responses rather than encouraging cooperative 
group efforts. For boys, this model reinforces their method of 
learning, but conflicts with a girl's tendency to collaborate, make 
connections, and build relationships in problem solving. The 
structure of classroom instruction can place girls at a 
disadvantage. 

Teachers' responses to students have also been found to favor male 
academic development and independence. Teachers talk to girls less, 
provide them with fewer directions, counsel them less, and give them 
fewer rewards. In essence, girls and boys are experiencing 
different academic environments. Teachers are generally unaware of 
the presence or impact of their responses. In general, boys are 
praised for the substance of their performance in the classroom, but 
criticized for matters of form, e.g., sloppy handwriting or calling 
out answers in class. In contrast, girls are praised for matters of 
form, e.g., neat handwriting or speaking clearly, but are criticized 
on the substance of their unacceptable performance. Encouraged by 
teacher praise, boys attribute their success to the substance of 
their innate abilities, and generally dismiss criticism on matters 
of form as unimportant. Girls therefore tend to attribute failure 
to their own lack of ability, and are less likely to develop 
positive self-concepts and expectations for achievement. 

Girls are not sufficiently encouraged to take traditionally "male" 
math, science, and computer courses. In fact, both female and 
minority students who are interested in science and engineering are 
ignored, but more often dissuaded from their interests. Hence, not 
only are four out of five female high school seniors already 
precluded from taking college math, science, or engineering courses, 
but they are also unable to train for a number of jobs, both 
traditional and non-traditional. Despite laws such as Title IX 
(1972) and federal funding programs such as the Women's Educational 
Equity Act (1974), women of all racial and ethnic groups remain 
seriously underrepresented in vocational training programs leading 
to higher paying jobs. When young women are channeled into jobs 
that offer low pay and little opportunity for advancement, the 
chances of their achieving economic self-sufficiency are reduced. 

A number of background characteristics correlate with dropping out 
of school. Low socio-economic status is a factor. Yet a parent's 
occupation affects the dropout rate of girls more than boys. The 
relationship between dropping out and parents' education level is a 
strong one. For young women, a mother's education level is 
particularly significant. The more schooling a mother has 
completed, the less likely her daughter is to drop out. 



14 - 



Dropout rates generally increase as the number of siblings increase, 
with the pattern being strongest for white males and females. 
Larger families tend to have lower socioeconomic status, a factor 
clearly related to higher dropout rates. However, the number of 
siblings is a particularly critical factor for young women, as they 
may drop out of school in order to care for brothers and sisters at 
home. The dropout rate accelerates faster for young women having 
three to five siblings than for young men with the same number of 
sibl ings. 

Another characteristic affecting dropout is race. Black females are 
more likely to drop out than black males. 

For the approximately 40 percent of females who drop out of school 
for reasons related to pregnancy and marriage, their dilemma can be 
symptomatic of low self-esteem, low academic achievement, and a lack 
of life options in general. Consider the following: Teens with 
poor basic skills are five times as likely to become mothers before 
age 16 as are those with average basic skills; and young women with 
poor or fair basic skills are four times as likely as those with 
average basic skills to have more than one child in their teens. 
Age at first marriage has no significant effect on the educational 
attainment of men, but has a strong effect on the educational 
attainment of women. 

Young women who are pregnant or parenting have particular 
difficulties with the current school structure. Faced with the 
standard six or seven period day, pregnant teens experiencing 
physical discomfort may find it impossible to attend the number of 
classes needed to pass a course, or they may have to drop out of 
school for a semester. Once they have left school, teens are out of 
sequence with their class. At that point, the teen has two choices: 
either to take extra courses at night or in the summer, to catch up 
with her class; or, to face the social humiliation of joining a 
younger class (to be "left back" or retained). If the young woman 
is "left back," she will, in many cases, eventually drop out of 
school. Pregnant and parenting teens also have a greater need for 
instruction in areas outside of the academic "basics," for example, 
information about prenatal and infant care, access to social 
services, day care, and family life education. This need conflicts 
with the assumption that schools need only teach the basics. 
Schools that actively counsel pregnant and parenting students show 
increased retention rates for this population. To date, however, 
schools have tended to play a relatively passive role, and generally 
become involved in establishing special programs for pregnant and 
parenting teens as a result of some external pressure. 

Generally, comprehensive, multi -faceted programs have been the most 
successful in helping a variety of youths who are at-risk for 
various reasons. Successful programs involve local input at all 
phases of planning and implementation. The state's role includes 



- 15 - 



helping to facilitate and encourage good programs, and removing the 
barriers that impede their development. Effective programs involve 
collaboration and coordination among government agencies, community 
organizations, the home, and the business community. 



KEY REFERENCES CITED: 

Brophy, J. "Teacher Praise: A Functional Analysis." Review of 
Educational Research 51 (Spring, 1981): 5-32. 

Children's Defense Fund. Preventing Adolescent Pregnancy: What 
Schools Can Do . Washington, D.C.: The Adolescent Prevention 
Clearinghouse, (1986). 

Dweck, C, Goetz, T.E. and Strauss, N. "Sex Differences in Learned 
Helplessness: IV. An Experimental and Naturalistic Study of 
Failure Generalization and its Mediators." Journal of 
Personality and Social Psychology 38 (1980): 441-452. 

Ekstrom, R.B., Goertz, M.E., Pollack, J.M. and Rock, D.A. "Who 
Drops Out of High School and Why? Findings From a National 
Survey." Teachers College Record . Vol. 87, pp. 356-373, 

Spring, 1986. 

Fine, M. and Rosenberg, P. "Dropping Out of High School: The 
Ideology of School and Work." Journal of Education . 165 
(Summer, 1983): 257-272. 

Gilligan, C. In A Different Voice: Psychological Theory and 
Women's Development . Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 
1982. 



16 



(4) The Interstate Migrant Education Council, "Migrant Education: 
A Consolidated View," A Special Project of the Education 
Commission of the States. Denver, Colorado: July 1987. 



EDITORS' NOTE: This examination of the place of children of migrant 
workers in the educational system has particular relevance to the 
study of dropouts as these students have the highest dropout rate of 
any identified group. While migrant students are like other "at 
risk" students in many ways, they pose some of the most difficult 
problems for the educational system. This paper provides background 
on migrant education and offers some policy options and strategies 
for dealing with their particular problems. 



KEY WORDS: Migrant students Timely identification 

Differences across groups Comprehensive approach 



KEY POINTS: 

Considering the circumstances of migrant students, it is not 
surprising that they have more than their share of difficulties in 
surviving the rigors of public education. Certainly their mobility 
hampers a continuous pattern of growth, but other factors come into 
play as well. Seldom is a problem a result of a single cause and 
seldom is that problem diminished by simplistic solutions. The 
perils facing migrant students are shared by many at-risk students. 

Migrant students are minority students. Many are non-native English 
speaking. As a result, migrant students have a generally lowered 
success rate in schools where English fluency tends to be taken for 
granted. The mobility of migrant students surely retards 
educational progress. It takes time to adjust to a new educational 
environment and even more time to learn to be successful within it. 
This is time that migrant students do not have. Migrant students 
are typically older than their classmates--another circumstance that 
takes its toll. Their parents have less education than other 
parents. Migrant students have ready access to work opportunities, 
which, combined with a need to work, can interfere with school 
activities. And the list goes on. 

The educational disadvantages encountered by migrant students can 
combine to create such formidable barriers to school completion that 
quitting school becomes an attractive alternative. Dropping out of 
school is a remedy for school failure all too often exercised by 
minority students. And among minorities, dropping out is most 
common for migrant students who face sometimes insurmountable 



- 17 - 



obstacles to staying in school. Migrant youth have the lowest 
graduation rate of any population group identified in our public 
school system and the rate of completion of post-secondary 
educational programs is correspondingly grim. 

Specific problems that up the dropout rate include: 1) When first 
enrolling in school migrant students are frequently placed in a 
lower grade than is appropriate for their age. In subsequent years, 
migrant students are often retained for reasons such as size, 
maturity or language limitations. Being overage is presently the 
highest predictor of dropout behavior among migrant students. More 
than 99% of all students who are one and a half to two years overage 
drop out before graduation. 2) Credit deficiency is the second most 
common reason for failure to graduate. Students who are severely 
credit deficient often decide that they or their families cannot 
afford the time it will take to complete graduate requirements. 3) 
Senior year students are often surprised to discover that they do 
not have all the pre-requisites to graduate. Migrant students 
frequently encounter difficulties because of inadequate knowledge of 
school requirements, which may vary from district to district. 

4) State or district competency or proficiency exams become another 
stumbling block for migrant students. These tests may vary in each 
district, making mobility a severe handicap. Success on these tests 
depends on high reading comprehension and writing skills, both 
difficult areas for non-native English speaking students. 5) Lack 
of acceptance of migrant students by non-migrant students is 
widespread. Migrant students are less able to participate in a 
school's social activities which further reduces, from a student's 
point of view, the number of reasons to attend school. 6) There 
exists a lack of education support of migrant students by their 
parents. Undereducated parents frequently believe that their 
children should be in the fields rather than in school. 

Programs for migrant students have expanded in quantity and quality 
in the past twenty years. This expansion has been abetted by 
organizations who support improvement in health and educational 
services for migrant children. 

Certainly one of the most significant service mechanisms is the 
Migrant Student Record Transfer System (MSRTS). This system, begun 
in 1969, grew from a mounting national awareness that an urgent need 
existed to provide for efficient and timely transmittal of essential 
educational and health data from one host community to another. 
Proper educational curricula and health care simply could not begin 
to be offered to the migrant student until knowledge of what had 
gone before was in hand. 

The Migrant Dropout Reconnection Program's (MDRP's) goal is to 
increase the number of migrant youth who resume secondary or 
vocational education and/or pursue education beyond the secondary 
level. This project has set about both to coordinate the efforts of 

- 18 - 



various agencies serving migrant youth and to provide services to 
migrant youth. The MDRP identifies eight major activities to 
support attainment of their goal: Identify, enroll and provide 
direct counseling services to eligible migrant dropout youth (ages 
16-21) through a network of regional facilitators; identify and 
establish cooperative working agreements with service agencies to 
provide services to the youth; refer migrant dropout youth to 
existing educational and vocational agencies (these referral 
agencies include but are not limited to High School Equivalency 
Program (HEP), College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP), Job Corps, 
local ABE/GED Programs, and Adult Migrant and Seasonal Farmworker 
Programs); provide youth with access to a toll-free hotline to 
receive counseling and referral services wherever they are in the 
country; provide to youth and service agencies a monthly bilingual 
newsletter, "Real Talk," which features educational -vocational 
opportunities, health, personal and financial aid information, role 
models, career opportunities and other topics of interest to the 
youth; provide personalized correspondence with youth to encourage 
them to reconnect with educational -vocational options; develop 
special pilots, i.e., Peer Facilitator Project and Adopt-A-Migrant 
Program; and provide technical assistance and training to state and 
local educators in the implementation of the program. 

Educators at state and local levels have responded to these 
students' needs in a variety of ways over the last two decades. 
Some of these important accomplishments include: Development and 
implementation of a secondary credit exchange system; initiation of 
Learn and Earn programs for students who are not college bound and 
those who drop out of school; development of short-term units (6 
weeks) of instruction to accommodate the short school attendance 
span and individual student needs; development of a variety of 
instructional materials and methodologies to address the needs of 
limited English speaking students; use of a variety of models for 
meaningful parental involvement; High School Equivalency Programs 
(HEP) in operation for purposes of addressing the high incidence of 
school dropouts within the migrant student community; operation of 
College Assistance Migrant Programs (CAMP) for purposes of 
identifying, recruiting and enrolling migrant high school graduates, 
with the desire and academic potential, in post-secondary education; 
summer school programs offering a complete gamut of instructional 
courses and services to allow students to catch up or make up course 
work missed as a result of migration (these programs run from 8 
weeks to 3 months in duration and some include evening classes to 
accommodate older students who must work in the fields during the 
day); and individualized instruction is now the rule as a result of 
smaller pupil/teacher ratios and additional human resources (aides) 
in the classroom in addition to supplies and equipment necessary for 
development and implementation of new materials and approaches 
(innovation). These accomplishments have occurred in a context of 
cooperation and mutual support. 



- 19 



A California-based program, commonly known as PASS (Portable 
Assisted Study Sequence), is a program that has proven successful on 
a local level, then expanded to a broader application. The greatest 
impediment to graduation for the migrant student is lack of credits. 
Migrant programs need to provide or assist the school to provide a 
means by which migrant secondary students can make up or earn extra 
credits to graduate. Presently the most effective means of doing 
this is the PASS Program. The program consists of prepared 
curriculum material which is packaged to be portable and designed 
for independent study. Most required courses are available through 
PASS as well as some challenging electives and some courses in 
Spanish and Punjabi. PASS material can be used by the migrant 
student independently at home during the school year or with 
supervision during study periods, in extended programs and in summer 
school. School districts generally approve the use of PASS and 
award credits for satisfactory completion of the coursework: 
however, PASS credit also can be awarded through the PASS 
administration site which serves the entire state. Although some 
districts have devised their own credit make up programs (such as 
night schools and extended day), few have the scope and flexibility 
and rate of use and success that the PASS program offers. 

While there is reason for concern about the migrant student dropout 
rate, there is a responsibility at the other end of the school -age 
spectrum to provide for early childhood education. Early 
intervention has been shown beyond any doubt to make an enormous 
difference in later years. High quality early childhood education 
enables families and communities to improve the life chances of 
their children. Long-term research shows that young adults, now 19 
years old, who attended a high quality preschool program made 
greater gains in education, employment, and social responsibility 
than similar young adults who did not attend preschool. 

Nationally, each successful migrant program has a common 
characteristic: it addresses the need to cross state lines. Each 
is implemented and supported by states and local agencies addressing 
common problems. Each is contributing to enhanced continuity in the 
services provided to migrant students. Seeing the education of 
migrant youth as a national priority requiring a synthesis of 
approaches rather than fragmentation is important progress. The 
extent to which such a geographically dispersed group of educators 
has come to join together across state boundaries is testimony to 
the dedication that exists for improving opportunities for migrant 
youth. It is this availability of consistent, continuous and 
cooperative programmatic effort that helps create promise in the 
migrant student's future. 



20 



KEY REFERENCES CITED: 

Hodgkinson, H.L. All One System: Demographics of Education 
Kindergarten through Graduate School . Washington, D.C.: 
Institute for Educational Leadership, Inc., 1985. 

Mann, D. "Can We Help Dropouts: Thinking About the Undoable," 
Teachers College Record . Vol. 87, no. 3, 1986. 

Weikart, D.P. "Changed Lives: A Twenty-Year Perspective on Early 
Education," American Educator . Winter 1984. 



21 - 



(5) Sally A. Ward, "Student Characteristics and Precipitating 

Events in Relation to Dropping Out of High School." Doctoral 
Dissertation, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 
1982. 



EDITORS' NOTE: .In this doctoral dissertation, Ward studied dropouts 
from a rural North Carolina county. She found dropouts to be lower 
in achievement, more likely to have discipline problems and to have 
fewer friends in school. In her search for events which led to 
students' dropping out, she found few precipitating "pushes" but 
also found few school -related "pulls" to keep them in school. 
Dropping out was seen to be a gradual process, with many factors and 
events leading up to the decision to drop out, frequently after an 
absence from school. 



KEY WORDS: 



KEY POINTS: 



School -related factors 
Dropout decision process 



Absences from school 
Participation in extra- 
curricular activity 



The current study focuses on school -related factors that may 
influence the decision to drop out. School -related factors were 
selected for study over variables such as home environment, 
personality characteristics, and ability for two reasons: a) 
because school -related factors are often evident and readily 
apparent to school personnel; and b) because school -related factors 
are likely to be the most suitable targets for intervention or 
modification by the school to reduce the dropout rate. 

Conceptually, school -related factors are broadly defined as the 
variety of influences that determine what the school experience is 
like for an individual student. Situations and events occurring in 
the high school setting are assumed to contribute to dropping out in 
two possible ways: a) they may precipitate immediate withdrawal 
from school ; and b) they may be one of several factors that 
contribute to the likelihood that a student will drop out. In the 
current study school -related events and situations include such 
things as the content and level of difficulty of courses taken; 
participation in a variety of curricular and extra-curricular school 
activities; whether the student experiences difficulty conforming to 
school rules and expectations, as evidenced by disciplinary 
contacts; and how and where the student fits into the student social 
milieu. Presumably a student who receives gratification in the form 
of peer social reinforcement or popularity in high school is less 
likely to drop out than one who does not receive such rewards, even 
in the absence of academic success. 



22 - 



The vast literature available on dropouts indicates that whether a 
student drops out is influenced by many factors, from different 
sources, occurring at various times in a student's educational 
career. The literature cites evidence of home, school, peer, and 
community influences. Some influences such as some family 
characteristics, handicaps, or ability may exist from birth, while 
others may develop gradually or exert effects only immediately prior 
to dropping out. One basic assumption of this paper is that 
dropping out is multiply-caused or multiply-influenced. It is 
helpful to make the conceptual distinction between potentiating 
versus precipitating factors contributing to the act of dropping 
out. Potentiating factors are background and situational factors 
that increase the likelihood that a student will drop out, but can 
not be said to be the immediate cause of dropping out; they may 
occur at any point in a student's life up until the time of dropping 
out. Precipitating factors are recognizable events that result in 
more or less immediate dropping out. It is assumed that a 
precipitating event will not be identifiable for all dropouts; 
however, for most dropouts it is expected that some combination of 
potentiating and precipitating events contribute to the eventual 
decision to drop out. 

Potentiating and precipitating events or situations evident in high 
school, that lead to eventual dropping out, can be differentiated by 
their source and valence. Events or situations can occur in or 
outside of school and can constitute a pressure to stay in school or 
a pressure to leave. School characteristics can "pull" a student to 
stay in school, or "push" him or her to drop out, as can community 
or family influence. 

Being out of school for any reason appears to be a major factor 
contributing to the likelihood that a student will drop out within a 
period of weeks. Dropping out is most likely to occur within two to 
four weeks after major holidays, after periods of frequent absence, 
or after a period of suspension. Missing school, for any reason, 
may tend to disrupt habits, routines, or inertia that make school - 
attendance relatively easy or effortless. The student who attends 
because he or she has nothing better to do may discover other ways 
of spending his or her time, or other activities that are more 
rewarding than school during a period of enforced absence. Missing 
days when school is in session has the added disadvantage of the 
student missing academic and social activities and becoming behind 
and left out. Academically this may result in backlogs of work to 
be made up and confusion or inability to comprehend instruction 
because of missed background instruction or skills. These effects 
seem likely to increase discomfort and alienation at school. When 
this discomfort and alienation is contrasted with increasingly 
positive, rewarding or comfortable activities out of school the 
chances of dropping out are likely to be increased. 



- 23 - 



When lengthy suspensions or absences occur, high-risk students might 
benefit from pro-active help to readjust to school, plan and 
organize to identify and make up missed work, and re-enter missed 
activities or groups. Participation in re-entry counseling might be 
a mandatory part of disciplinary suspensions of a week or more. 
Students missing school frequently because of personal or family 
illness or crisis should be considered high-risk, and efforts made 
by staff or peers to maintain contact and involvement during their 
absence. Planning school -related group activities or projects 
during the Christmas holidays or developing a network of 
communication and contact among students for that period might help 
to maintain involvement with school during this period of absence. 
Counseling to help students anticipate post-Christmas depression, 
developing concrete plans and expectations for returning to school 
in January, and planning positive school activities for the post- 
Christmas period are also options that might merit further study. 

The absence of identifiable precipitating factors, combined with a 
common pattern of characteristics among students just prior to 
dropping out suggests that for many students dropping out is likely 
to be a gradual process, occurring over a period of four to six 
months, during which a number of potentially contributory factors or 
events are evident. This gradual dropping out process is 
characterized by decreased attendance, unsatisfactory academic 
performance, and lack of involvement with peers or school 
activities. 

It is unclear whether this pattern of characteristics develops as a 
result of changes in a student's attitude or behavior caused by a 
prior decision to leave school, or whether the final decision to 
leave school is stimulated by the development of this non-rewarding 
pattern of characteristics. If an earlier decision to drop out 
precipitates the changes or conditions that characterize this 
gradual dropping out process, then it is possible that the gradual 
dropping out may serve to fulfill needs for gradual termination and 
psychological withdrawal, or appeasement of pressures to remain in 
school. If, however, the decision to drop out is a function of 
increasing dissatisfaction and alienation with school that is in 
part a result of, and in part causes, decreased attendance and lack 
of involvement, then there exists the possibility of intervening to 
disrupt this self-enhancing circle of factors that may lead to 
dropping out. 

Either of the above conclusions lead to the question of whether some 
event or situation precipitated the beginning of the gradual 
dropping out process. Future investigations of situations or events 
that precipitate dropping out probably need to focus on or include 
data on events occurring six months or more prior to a student's 
final departure from school. Identification of these possible 
precipitating events is made difficult by uncertainty about exactly 
when the dropping out process can be said to have started. This 
would be critical because attempts to identify precipitating events, 

- 24 - 



from the standpoint of an outside observer, have relied on close 
temporal continuity between the precipitating event and dropping 
out. Subjective interview methods for determining what prompts 
students to drop out have resulted in answers such as "lack of 
interest in school" and "academic failure," situations which in the 
current formulation are symptoms of the drop out process itself, not 
precipitators of it. Modified interview techniques or approaches 
might yield different results. Student interviews might focus on 
the questions of "Have you always been uninterested in school?" if 
not, "When did you lose interest?" If a student has always been 
uninterested: "Why did you drop out now?" and "Why did you not drop 
out before now?" It is as important to focus on why students 
remained in school up until this point, as their current reasons for 
leaving. 

Various writers in the literature have suggested that a student who 
receives gratification or reinforcement in the high school setting 
in the form of status rewards, peer social reinforcement, or 
popularity is less likely to drop out than one who does not receive 
such rewards. Several writers on dropouts have suggested that 
students are unlikely to stay in school unless they are receiving 
gratification or reinforcement for school attendance in at least one 
facet of school life, be it academic, athletic, or social. This 
formulation supports the speculation that lack of success or 
involvement in academic, social or athletic realms would result in 
little gratification and thus little "pull" to remain in school. 
Further, there are likely to be correlations between academic, 
social, and athletic success. 

It is possible that having a friend drop out does not precipitate 
dropping out, but rather is a contributing factor that increases the 
likelihood that a student will drop out eventually. It is also 
possible that having a friend drop out precipitates or exacerbates 
the gradual development of the pattern of reduced involvement, 
attendance and success characteristic of many students just prior to 
dropping out. If this is the case, effects of having a friend or 
friends drop out might only be evident over a period of a year or 
more. Participation in sports activities exerts some pull that 
increases the likelihood that a student will remain in school. 
Characteristics related to a student's desire or eligibility for 
sports tend to be negatively correlated with dropping out. 
Apparently simple involvement (membership) in school activities does 
not lower the dropout rate; the characteristics of the activity in 
which the student is involved appear to be of importance. Sports 
participation seems a likely source of peer involvement and social 
visibility and recognition, factors suggested by the sociometric 
data to be negatively correlated with dropping out. Sports 
participation also involves a greater commitment of time and effort, 
and requires a greater degree of minimum competence than most other 
extra-curricular activities. Sports has, in effect, an entrance 



25 



requirement in the form of both minimal academic standing and 
athletic ability. Sports are also likely to generate and require a 
greater degree of interpersonal cohesiveness and mutual support than 
other types of school clubs or activities. 

Results of the current study indicate that dropouts are less 
involved with both peers and school activities than non-dropouts. 
However, the pattern of participation in sports and other extra- 
curricular activities does not suggest that just any type of program 
to increase school involvement or participation is necessarily 
likely to be effective. It is hypothesized that characteristics 
such as status, visibility, recognition, membership requirements, 
and group cohesiveness may be critical factors in the effectiveness 
of non-academic activities in exerting a "pull" to remain in school. 
This suggests the need to develop and test the dropout-preventive 
effectiveness of such programs as school -supervised recreational 
sports leagues, school -sponsored scouts, or other service 
organizations that require commitments of time and effort on the 
part of students, and which result in shared effort and involvement 
among members, and in community and school recognition and status. 
Entrance requirements related to school -enrollment and in some cases 
personal abilities or talents might be a positive factor; however, 
requirements related to academic standing may limit the 
participation of some high-risk students. Such programs might serve 
a preventive function as well as providing a pre-established network 
of students and activities with which identified high-risk students 
might be encouraged to become involved. 

Increasing demands for performance coupled with low perceived 
benefit from remaining in school appears credible as a potentiating 
situation that may contribute to dropping out. This interpretation 
suggests several possible strategies that might reduce dropping out: 
a) make career exploration, counseling, and training available at a 
younger age, preferably before a student reaches high school; b) 
reduce or remove barriers that keep academically disadvantaged 
students out of vocational courses; and c) strive not only to make 
vocational and other course content logically relevant to student 
needs and future plans, but also actively work to see that the 
student recognizes the personal relevance of the material presented. 

Another factor likely to influence grades, especially in preferred 
placement classes, as well as influencing the attitudes of school 
personnel toward the student, is the student's apparent effort in 
class. Students who appear to be working up to their ability are 
likely to receive higher grades for similar work than students who 
appear to be unmotivated, uninterested, or exerting little effort. 
It may not be simple lack of interest in school, but the appearance 
of lack of interest or effort, or the teacher's perception or 
expectation that a student is putting forth little effort that 
increases the likelihood that a student will earn poor grades. A 
student who adopts an "I don't care" attitude to cover failure, 
disappointment, or frustration may receive poorer grades than a 

- 26 - 



student who reacts to failure with an outward show of anxiety or 
frustration. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that among 
certain peer groups it is socially taboo to appear concerned about 
grades or teacher opinion. Within these groups, the attempt to 
maintain social status or exhibit socially desirable attitudes may 
actively interfere with school success. This is one mechanism by 
which peer subgroups or subcultural values may increase a student's 
chances of school failure. 

The current study identified few precipitating "pushes" for students 
to withdraw from school. What was evident, however, was a relative 
lack of school -related "pulls" for dropouts to remain in school. 
The data indicate that students who drop out tend to be less 
successful and less involved than non-dropouts in the three spheres 
of academic, social, and athletic activity. A gradual dropping out 
process is identified, which consists of a pattern of decreasing 
attendance, and school involvement, beginning four to six months 
prior to final school withdrawal. 



KEY REFERENCES CITED: 

Bell, J.W. "A Comparison of Dropouts and Non-dropouts on 
Participation in School Activities." Journal of Educational 
Research , 1967, 60(6), 248-251. 

Elliott, D.W., Voss, H.L., & Wendling, A. "Capable Dropouts and the 
Social Milieu of the High School." Journal of Educational 
Research . 1966, 60(4), 180-186. 

Reich, C, and Young, V. "Patterns of Dropping Out." Interchange , 
1975, 6(4), 6-15. 

Voss, H.L., Wendling, A., & Elliott, D.S. "Some Types of High 
School Dropouts." Journal of Educational Research , 1966, 59, 
363-368. 



27 



(6) Gary G. Wehlage and Robert A. Rutter, "Dropping Out: How Much 
Do Schools Contribute to the Problem?" Teachers College Record , 
Vol. 87(3), Spring 1986. 



EDITORS' NOTE: This article focuses attention not on the 

characteristics of students who are prone to drop out, but rather on 
the characteristics of schools which catalyze this decision. The 
authors argue for more attention to educationally worthwhile 
experiences to meet the varied needs of students. 



KEY WORDS: School -related factors Dropout decision process 
Differences across groups Opportunities for success 
Absences from school 

KEY POINTS: 

Implicit in much research on school dropouts is the assumption that 
a better understanding of the characteristics of dropouts will 
permit educators to develop policies and provide practices that will 
reduce the number of adolescents who fail to graduate. The intent 
is noble, but the results have been negligible because the focus on 
social, family, and personal characteristics does not carry any 
obvious implications for shaping school policy and practice. 
Moreover, if the research on dropouts continues to focus on the 
relatively fixed attributes of students, the effect of such research 
may well be to give schools an excuse for their lack of success with 
the dropout. Institutional thinking may go something like this: 
After all, it is not the school's fault that some of its students 
are from poor homes and not very talented academically, and since we 
cannot do anything about these things that interfere with school 
success, the school is absolved of responsibility for the fact that 
a sizable portion of its clients find good reasons to leave before 
graduation. 

The problem is not simply to keep educationally at-risk youth from 
dropping out, but more importantly to provide them with 
educationally worthwhile experiences. Those who lack basic skills, 
career skills, and the social presence to be successful in the 
workplace will encounter unemployment and welfare, with the 
frustration and indignity this status confers on them. Previously 
the labor market was able to absorb most of those with a limited 
education, but increasingly the lack of a high school diploma is 
tantamount to a denial of employment. In order to be employable in 
other than the most menial work, those entering the labor market 
will certainly have to master the core competencies that should be 
acquired in high school. 



28 - 



Researchers need now to ask why these youth are educationally at 
risk and, further, what policies and practices of public schools can 
be constructive in reducing the chances that these students will 
drop out. It is important to conceive this new research in a way 
that looks for the cause of dropping out not only in the 
characteristics of the dropout, but also in relation to those 
institutional characteristics that affect the marginal student in a 
negative manner. Presumably the school is obligated to create an 
environment in which these youth can experience some kind of 
success, find institutional participation rewarding, and develop 
aspirations for additional schooling that can lead to satisfying 
employment. Although schools can do nothing about students' SES or 
innate ability, important contributing factors to dropout that are 
under the control of the school may be modified to change the school 
conditions of marginal students. 

There is a serious problem with the holding power of school for some 
youth. Dropouts do not expect to get as much schooling as their 
peers and this is quite understandable. They do not perform as well 
as their peers on school tests, their grades are lower than those of 
their peers, they are more often truant both in and out of school, 
and generally they get into more disciplinary trouble than other 
students. Given this rather negative set of experiences, it should 
not be surprising that these students leave school for a different 
environment. For most the intent is to enter the world of work, 
which must look more rewarding than the situation they find in 
school . 

It is crucial to view the dropout problem as growing out of conflict 
with and estrangement from institutional norms and rules that are 
represented in various discipline problems. If the intent of social 
policy is to reduce the number of dropouts, then policies and 
practices of schools will need to respond to this conflict with and 
estrangement from the institution arising out of the social and 
family background of students. Certainly public schooling in a 
democratic society is obligated to respond constructively to 
children from all backgrounds and social conditions. It may be that 
some kinds of children are more difficult to teach than others, but 
the school has no less of a mandate to do its best to provide all 
the schooling such children can profitably use. This is precisely 
the mandate that has been accepted by the schools for educating 
handicapped children. 

The picture of high school that emerges for most students is a place 
where teachers are not particularly interested in students, and the 
discipline system is perceived as neither effective nor fair. 
Dropouts are not satisfied with their schooling. For the dropout, 
school is a place where one gets into trouble; suspension, 
probation, and cutting classes are much more frequent for this 



- 29 - 



group. Almost all of the youth who eventually drop out see 
themselves finishing high school, suggesting that dropping out is 
not a conscious decision already made that can be identified in the 
early years of high school. 

Taken as a whole these data suggest that school factors related to 
discipline are significant in developing a tendency to drop out. If 
one comes from a low SES background, which may signify various forms 
of family stress or instability, and if one is consistently 
discouraged by the school because of signals about academic 
inadequacies and failures, and if one perceives little interest or 
caring on the part of teachers, and if one sees the institution's 
discipline system as both ineffective and unfair but one has serious 
encounters with that discipline system, then it is not unreasonable 
to expect such individuals to become alienated and lose their 
commitment to the goals of graduating from high school and pursuing 
more education. 

The process of becoming a dropout is complex because the act of 
rejecting an institution as fundamental to the society as school 
must also be accompanied by the belief that the institution has 
rejected the person. The process is probably cumulative for most 
youth. It begins with negative messages from the school concerning 
academic and discipline problems. As these messages accumulate into 
concrete problems — failing courses and thereby lacking credits 
required for graduation—the choice is between continuing an extra 
year or more in a setting that offers increasingly negative 
experiences and dropping out. Some do elect to stay to graduation, 
but as many as 50 percent of the youth in some schools elect to 
escape to the perceived opportunities and experiences outside. 

For the adolescent who has dropped out of high school, the 
psychological effect is to drop out of all formal schooling. 
Although there are several routes a dropout can use to reenter the 
system of formal education, these youth generally believe that 
school is not for them--a decision that precludes many opportunities 
for personal and economic advancement in the future. 

While most of the literature on dropouts is directed only at the 
deficiencies found in the marginal student, we see those same 
characteristics as a reflection on the institution. More precisely, 
we consider the possibility that certain student characteristics in 
combination with certain school conditions are responsible for 
students' decisions to leave school early. We do not want to 
minimize the fact that students differ markedly on a range of 
personal and social characteristics; how could it be otherwise? 
However, schools are obliged to accept these differences as a fact 
of life and respond in a constructive manner. 

All youth must be given an opportunity to receive some reasonably 
attractive benefits from a publicly financed school system. 
Educators must be responsible for those students who are not ideal 

- 30 - 



academic performers as well as for those who are talented. There is 
evidence now that many students do not believe teachers are very 
interested in them. To the extent that those who come from 
disadvantaged backgrounds perceive a less than firm commitment by 
the institution to educate them, their school effort is not likely 
to be sincere. Professional accountability to those who are least 
advantaged is the only responsible stance educators can take. The 
profession must work to establish a variety of mechanisms to ensure 
that such students receive all the personal and social benefits 
possible. Professional accountability must begin with a general 
belief on the part of educators that such a commitment is important 
and a social responsibility. In addition, specific institutional 
mechanisms must be developed to define this accountability and make 
it a matter of both policy and practice. 

It may be that the impersonal bureaucratic structure of large high 
schools has created a sense of alienation among students who feel 
that the adults do not care for them and that they are likely to be 
treated in an unfair or arbitrary manner. The comprehensive high 
school of today may create adult/student relationships that result 
in skepticism and cynicism in both parties. More personal and 
authentic relationships are probably necessary to reestablish 
widespread belief in the legitimacy of the institution. 

Some reforms in the discipline system are necessary if schools are 
to avoid creating a sizable group of deviants who can see no 
alternative to resisting the school's authority if they are to 
retain their own dignity. At minimum schools must find ways of 
preventing the widespread truancy that has become a norm in many 
schools. The very students most at risk must not be allowed to 
undermine their own chances of success through either misguided 
permissivism or outright neglect on the part of educators. If the 
marginal academic student is to benefit from formal schooling, he or 
she must be in class. Part of the route to professional 
accountability is through the establishment of legitimate authority 
in the educational process for those who are to benefit from 
educators' efforts. The evidence from case studies of effective 
alternative programs for marginal students indicates that such 
students respond positively to an environment that combines a caring 
relationship and personalized teaching with a high degree of program 
structure characterized by clear, demanding, but attainable 
expectations. 

A central problem with schools today is that success is narrowly 
defined and restricted to the few at the top of their class ranking 
who are destined for college. Such a restricted notion of 
competence and success for youth is indefensible in terms of both 
the individuals involved and society as a whole. While proficiency 
in traditional academic subjects is important and serves to 
stimulate some youth, there are many more who should be encouraged 
to develop proficiency in other domains. We have examples of 
schools focused on the performing arts, health care and medicine, 

- 31 - 



and human services. There are excellent programs that have youth 
developing and managing small businesses. There are also exemplary 
vocational programs that involve youth in the building trades or 
other skilled fields where the curriculum is based on an 
"experiential" conception of learning. Such diverse opportunities 
for success and development can change the view that many youth now 
have that "school is not for me." 



KEY REFERENCES CITED: 



Ford Foundation Letter 15, No. 3 (1984): 1. 

Camp, C. School Dropouts . Sacramento: California Legislature: 
Assembly Office of Research, May 1980. 

Combs, J. and Cooley, W. "Dropouts: In High School and After High 
School," American Educational Research Journal , 5, no. 3 
(1968): 343-63. 

The Committee on Science, Engineering and Public Policy, "Skills for 
Tomorrow: High School and the Changing Workplace" (draft 
report, National Academy of Science, Engineering and Institute 
of Medicine, n.d.). 

Wehlage, G. Effective Programs for the Marginal High School 
Student , Bloomington, Ind.: Phi Delta Kappa, 1983. 

Wehlage, G. "The Marginal High School Student: Defining the 
Problem and Searching for Policy," Children and Youth Services 
Review , 5 (1983): 321-42. 



32 - 



(7) Byron N. Kunisawa, "A Nation in Crisis: The Dropout Dilemma. 
National Education Association , January 1988, pp. 61-65. 



EDITORS' NOTE: While many analyze the problem of dropping out in 
terms of the problems of dropouts, Kunisawa argues that the problem 
is in the monocultural approach to it. He argues the need for 
schools and school systems designed to prepare students for 
tomorrow's diverse technology and multi -cultural values. 



KEY WORDS: Differences across groups Multicultural needs 



KEY POINTS: 

In less than 50 years, America has virtually abandoned the work 
ethic that was a cornerstone of this society and accepted a 
hedonistic philosophy of "if it feels good, do it... if not, why 
bother?" Many of us have dropped out from everything- -marriage, 
parenting, voting, church-going, paying taxes, saving for the 
future, employment, and now education. Why should we be surprised 
that our young people drop out? 

We have failed to teach many of today's youth the critical 
importance of honesty, integrity, responsibility, respect, trust, 
and commitment. Many youngsters, regardless of gender, color, or 
income, come to school woefully unprepared for the rigors of 
learning and the frustrations of accompanying setbacks. 

Youth, especially ethnic minority youth, have little confidence in 
the deferred gratification that education promises, or the mythical 
guarantee that a diploma translates into equitable career/employment 
opportunities. The commitment to struggle and sacrifice for the 
future requires a belief that such a future holds some value. How 
can schools be solely responsible for reducing the dropout rate when 
the incentives they are selling seem to be mere illusions--"pie in 
the sky?" Educators cannot motivate the oppressed, excluded, and 
disenfranchised with hope and illusions of prosperity. It is too 
late for the simplistic "role-model" theory to deter dropouts. The 
question for many students today is not why drop out, but why not? 

Supporters of the current "back to the basics" movement have the 
right idea but the wrong blueprint. The current educational system 
uses a monocultural design to educate multicultural and multilingual 
students. This design is culturally incompatible with students and 
forces teachers to work in a structurally inappropriate format. The 
right back-to-basics blueprint requires a return to the drawing 
board to redesign the educational system for a multicultural, 

- 33 - 



multilingual student population. At the same time an effort needs 
to be made to redesign education to meet the needs of a changing and 
highly technological society. 

Systematic change of this magnitude is a long-term venture, but to 
do anything less is futile. After all, the problem is not dropouts; 
the problem is a dysfunctional education system that produces 
dropouts. To move in a direction of resolution rather than mere 
accommodation will require a multi-dimensional approach. 

There are programs throughout the country designed to prevent 
dropping out and increase academic skills. These programs are 
exceptional and often produce extraordinary results because they do 
not place the entire responsibility for motivating potential 
dropouts with the schools. They involve the school and business 
communities in this critical effort. But it is essential that we 
not simply label these successes as model programs and attempt to 
duplicate or clone them in every school district. School systems 
must begin a building process, utilizing the core components of 
model school programs to build more model schools, which will 
ultimately lead to the building of model school systems. 

This process of establishing a technological and multicultural 
educational system should include, but not be limited to, the 
following steps: Ensuring equity in per-pupil expenditures for all 
schools regardless of location and student population; teaching with 
accurate sources that put in proper perspective the contributions of 
non-Europeans and women to cultural and historical developments; 
specifying what the functions of the schools should be; identifying 
the academic, social-cultural, business, and economic skills 
required for full participation in a quickly changing, technological 
society; utilizing ethnic and cultural demographic statistics to 
ensure a cultural compatibility between education programs and 
student populations; establishing specific and legitimate 
professional requirements for teachers and administrators, with 
commensurate salaries and benefits; ensuring that the cultural make- 
up of teaching and administrative staffs is congruent with that of 
student populations; establishing programs to identify sources of 
funds to pay for higher education for all qualified and aspiring 
students; creating proactive alternative programs for the future, 
rather than reactive alternative programs for the past/present. 

We need to redesign our current educational system to accommodate 
the personal, cultural, and economic needs of students and to help 
them with their higher education and career aspirations. To do this 
requires advice from professionals—economists, computer scientists, 
environmentalists, cultural sociologists, financial planners, and 
futurists — formerly on the periphery of the educational system. To 
make such a comprehensive transition involves field-testing model 
school designs that incorporate exemplary programs--curriculums, 
instructional methods, support services — and encourage cultural 
diversity among students and staff. 

- 34 - 



ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Byron Kunisawa is director of the Multicultural 
Prevention Resource Center in San Francisco. The Center specializes 
in providing training and technical assistance to educators and 
counselors. Kunisawa's classroom credits include stints with Canada 
College's Multicultural Institute and, as a reading specialist, with 
Stanford University's Right to Read program. 



REFERENCES CITED: 

Hodgkinson, H. "All One System: Demographics of Education- 
Kindergarten Through Graduate School," Institute for Education 
Leadership, Inc., 1985. 

Task Force on the New York State Dropout Problem "Dropping Out of 
School in New York State: The Invisible People of Color." 
Report commissioned by the New York State African American 
Institute of the State University of New York (1986). 

Fine, M. and Rosenberg, P. (1984), "Dropping Out: The Ideology of 
School and Work," Educational Digest . April, 1984, pp. 26-29. 

Kozol , J. Illiterate America , New American Library, 1985. 

Stern, D. Reducing the High School Dropout Rate in California: Why 
We Should and How We May , Report commissioned by the University 
of California Berkeley, Institute of Governmental Studies, 
1986. 

Bowen, J. and Kipkowitz, D. "Staying in School: The Dropout 
Challenge," A position paper. New York State School Boards 
Association, 1985. 



35 



(8) Robert L. Wolk, "The School Dropout: The View of an Attendance 

Officer," from Antiachievement: Perspectives on School 

Dropouts . Emanuel F. Hammer (ed.)- Western Psychological 

Services, Los Angeles, CA: 1970 



EDITORS' NOTE: This reflective essay by a former "Truant Officer," 
emphasizes the individualized problems and needs of students in 
danger of dropping out of school. While somewhat dated, the article 
clearly lays out the argument for alternative curricula, schools, 
and certificates. 



KEY WORDS: Alternative programs Absences from school 

Differences across groups 



KEY POINTS: 

School dropouts leave their educational endeavors for many reasons, 
some sane and some inappropriate, some harmful to themselves and 
destructive to others. Sometimes the reasons have a rhyme, 
sometimes only a discord. It is the writer's view that many persons 
contribute to the school dropout's disenchantment with academia, to 
his formal and significant decision, and to what takes place 
thereafter. What next takes place usually consists of a halfhearted 
attempt on society's part to have the student return, and usually by 
seduction. Sometimes, as the alternative, no concern or effort at 
all is exerted to induce him to resume his education. 

Who is responsible? First, although not necessarily most 
importantly, there is the student himself. After him we must 
consider the family (the ubiquitous villains, mother and father), 
the teacher, the dropout's peer group, the principal, the school 
administrator, the curriculum advisers, the school mental health 
personnel and, of course, the person in the school system 
responsible for getting the beginning dropout to school bodily, the 
attendance teacher--or, if you will, use the term greeted with 
smiles and remembered myths--the truant officer. 

A school dropout does not achieve that designation until, legally, 
the school designates him as such. If he does not attend school he 
is a truant. The school system tends to place greater negative 
emphasis upon the truant than the dropout, and so the truant is 
encouraged to drop out as soon as he is of age. In spite of 
programs, a staggering number of school dropouts occur. In some 
urban areas the school dropout rate is as high as 80 to 90 percent. 



36 - 



The youngster who considers dropping out of school desires to leave 
because of many interrelated reasons. He is not doing well in 
school or is an outright failure; he is not getting educational 
satisfaction; he is frustrated by the school processes, feels that 
school is not meaningful to him and does not provide the possibility 
of immediate returns; he has become a disciplinary problem and the 
school is eager to have him leave; and generally his ego, perhaps 
battered in other encounters with life, suffers further insult by 
lack of scholastic achievement. 

The potential dropout, as we well know, is considerably more prone 
to asocial behavior. Being a truant allows considerable free time 
with little incentive for constructive direction of energies. In 
the absence of the structure and restraints imposed by the school, 
the youngster can and frequently does act out his anger against 
authority. He may turn to crime. At the same time, he recognizes 
that he will never be an achiever as measured by society's 
standards: money, prestige, and material possessions. 
Consequently, he decides to achieve by asocial behavior what he 
cannot achieve by socially acceptable methods. So he steals the big 
car which helps salve his somewhat battered ego. He may "mug" or 
steal in an effort to obtain money and at least a synthetic feeling 
of "achieving." 

All too often the school itself determines which students will be 
induced to remain. The youngster who causes difficulty in the 
classroom is usually the first to leave school as soon as he is 
sixteen years of age. The quiet youngster, although likewise not 
learning and perhaps just as angry--but better able to repress these 
feelings--is encouraged to stay. Such a child may be placed in an 
"opportunity class"; receive remedial work; be given a part-time 
after-school job, referred to the school psychologist for therapy, 
subjected to a tailored-to-order class program or included in some 
new program specifically geared (and expensively priced) for the 
potential school dropout. Such youngsters undeniably require 
assistance. 

The noisy, rude, acting-out youngster, however, also needs help. He 
is the one who is often ignored, or worse, rejected. He is 
upsetting to his teacher, to the school and to the other children. 
Few school authorities recognize that the noise generated by such 
children is often a cry for help, a bid for some attention, or a 
plea to be recognized as a human being. Even when such cries are 
heard and understood, the overwhelmed teacher tells herself that the 
other children need her attention; that a child has to want to learn 
in order to be taught; that the distraction generated is stronger 
than the obligation to help one child; or that the other children 
will suffer if so "much" attention is given to one. Then, the 
disruptive child becomes yet another school dropout with the urging 
and "blessings" of the school system itself. 



37 - 



Schools that excel academically point with pride to their large 
numbers of scholarship winners, holders of awards from science fairs 
and spelling bees, entrants into the "best" colleges, and alumni who 
have risen to exceptional heights. If, within such an educational 
milieu, there is a student who cannot achieve academically, he 
inevitably stands an excellent chance of joining the ranks of the 
school dropouts. 

The potential school dropout stands a better chance of discontinuing 
his education if he attends a "good" school. Such institutions, in 
order to preserve whatever it is that "good" schools must preserve, 
are more likely to drop the ambivalent student than are schools less 
defensive about their reputations. 

Many students who do graduate may have no opportunity to use their 
education, or actually may be yery poorly equipped. A number of 
high school graduates who come before the Criminal Court had 
difficulty in reading and in performing simple calculations. One 
might wonder about the burden placed upon the shoulders of such 
youths, possessing the badge of literacy, who when called upon to 
reveal what they should know, show only ineptitude. Many of these 
undereducated non-dropouts can function only at the same level as 
students who left school at sixteen, although their level of 
aspiration frequently is somewhat higher than that of the dropout. 

Forcing a child, who is neither motivated nor adequately equipped, 
through school can produce the backlash that stultifies or 
immobilizes an otherwise still curious mind. Unless learned 
material is meaningful or useful, basic learning theory tells us, it 
is much more difficult to retain. Poverty, even in large 
metropolitan areas, is still on the rampage. Lack of shoes, even in 
winter, is a frequent problem and children stay home because of 
embarrassment over lack of appropriate wearing apparel. Scratching 
for survival tends to tarnish the glow of education. Hunger negates 
even a large amount of scholastic motivation. 

A hungry child in a class of well-fed peers is apt to become angry 
and distraught. There is the shame of the family's failure to 
provide enough food, the loss of status, the actual hunger, and the 
resentment that others have more than he. The poorly clad 
youngster, particularly if a girl, also has difficulty in feeling 
part of the educational process and fitting in with the others. 
Schools must assume responsibility for understanding the truant or 
the youngster who is not learning; it must provide such children 
with realistic, pragmatic help. The "failure" must be given a 
chance at success somewhere and on his own terms. 

Family Court, the court responsible for legal matters concerning all 
children in New York under the age of sixteen (younger in some other 
states), also makes its contribution to pushing the potential 
dropout over the edge. Court is often used as a threat when a child 
has been truanting. If a truant is sixteen, he is given the choice 

- 38 - 



of dropping out of school or having the court place him either on 
probation or in a correctional institution. The choice is no choice 
at all, and so another youngster has his education terminated. 

What, now, can be done to keep children in school? First, perhaps, 
we must shift our philosophy by about ninety degrees. We must 
decide if every youngster should necessarily finish high school. We 
must determine what to do with youngsters who do not, or cannot, 
benefit from a formal education. We must take another look at the 
values we hold precious in an education. 

A fresh look at curricula is essential. Should we mold our children 
to fit a set course of study, with only mild alteration now and 
then, or should we individualize the curriculum to satisfy the 
individual needs of the student? Is it appropriate to brand a child 
delinquent if he rejects school? What is the best remedial program 
once it is decided to keep a child in school? Is there one master 
plan, several master plans, or should each child be offered an 
individualized approach? Who is to decide which children should 
remain in school? How are we to identify more accurately which, 
among the youngsters who remain in school, should be encouraged to 
drop out when, for them, such educational processes prove a waste? 

Not every child needs to achieve that much-lauded distinction of 
being a high-school graduate. Emphasis upon the diploma tends to 
widen the schism between those who have and those who have not. The 
quantity of learned material retained is also important, but often 
overlooked. Numerous youngsters without high-school diplomas are 
brighter or more articulate than many graduates; they also possess a 
greater fund of knowledge, have a high capacity to retain new and 
learned materials, and manifest better judgment. Through 
circumstances, such people are denied many jobs which they could 
fulfill better than the "orthodox" high-school graduate. What a 
waste of manpower and what an example of individual unfairness! 

Education, on the secondary level, should be divided into two major 
categories, academic and vocational. The academic program should be 
designed to suit those students who either plan to continue their 
education beyond high school or who are interested not in learning a 
specific trade but in acquiring a broader learning in general 
content areas. The vocational program should be geared to teaching 
specific trades or skills based upon the needs of unions and 
industry. A youngster who wishes training in auto mechanics, for 
example, should be offered--but not forced to study—subjects such 
as geometry, French, or economics. 

Another designation, a certificate rather than a diploma, could be 
awarded to those students who successfully learned a trade. If the 
student should choose later to return to school, he can then earn 
the diploma. The diploma itself might represent the pursuit of a 
more vigorous academic course of study, involving higher standards, 
than is currently the case. There would then be a clearer 

- 39 - 



distinction between the vocational trainee and the academic 
graduate. By means of this division, we would no longer have to 
hold to the rigid, overformal ized, four-year curriculum. In this 
fashion, school might offer children more of what they really need. 
All the children in one grade are expected to learn the same 
material, despite their widely varying interests, motivation, 
aspirations, and future plans. The concept of individual 
differences is, by and large, ignored in our current educational 
system. Many students have difficulty because the class is either 
too fast, too slow, too hard, or too easy. Children are easily 
frustrated, and frustration, as we know, leads to apathy. The next 
step may be actual physical withdrawal from the classroom, i.e., 
truancy. The student then is on his way to becoming a prime 
candidate for the next step, dropout. 

Perhaps special schools should be established for dropouts. These 
schools, actually, would be diagnostic and planning centers in which 
the youngster who is ready to leave school could be studied to 
uncover the real reasons for the termination of his education. When 
necessary, remedial work could be furnished. When it is deemed best 
for a youngster to leave school, on the other hand, plans for his 
future in the community could be made with him. Legal, social, 
economic, educational, and familial aspects of the problems could be 
evaluated and "treated." The important philosophy behind such a 
school would be one of planning for the child and his future in a 
comprehensive, goal -oriented fashion. 

Many problems contribute to the making of a school dropout and no 
easy solutions to the multidetermined causation can be proposed. 
The dropout, however, must be treated primarily as an individual and 
must be planned for--not by means of mass-oriented formulae—but in 
terms of a personalized, specific approach. 



- 40 



(9) C. Gilbert Wrenn, "The Dropout and the School Counselor," from 
The School Dropout , Daniel Schreiber (ed), National Educational 
Association, Washington, D.C., 1964. 



EDITORS' NOTE: This 1964 essay outlines the tasks and challenges 
facing the counselor in dealing with potential dropouts. The 
primary goal is seen as modifying the future dropout's negative 
self-perception and elementary school is seen as the place to begin 
this transformation. 

KEY WORDS: Differences across groups Counseling 

KEY POINTS: 

What can be done for the school dropout by the school counselor 
might be broadly categorized into three areas: (a) influencing 
others to provide a more meaningful environment, both school and 
non-school; (b) modifying others' perceptions of the dropout in the 
direction of better identification and understanding; and (c) 
modifying the self-perception of the dropout so that he may be able 
to relate better to others and also to know how to make more 
adequate use of whatever environmental resources are available to 
him. 

The counselor should be familiar with the various minority groups 
which contribute disproportionate numbers of potential dropouts. 
Sometimes broadly called "the alienated," they embody economic, 
cultural, and racial alienations. They may be the newcomers of a 
school, they may be members of migrant families. Their sense of 
isolation is often so crippling as to breed resentment and 
hostility. At best it reduces the likelihood that they will easily 
respond to school opportunities. It is important that the counselor 
understand some of the values and strengths of a culture that is 
different from his own, that he study the family and community mores 
of different groups for what he can learn from them, not only for 
what he can do for them. As he learns, he can transmit his 
knowledge to teachers and staff, little by little. He can, together 
with other pupil personnel specialists, examine the school's program 
and services to see what could be done that is not now being done 
for the discouraged and the disenchanted. Most of all he can 
examine squarely whether he thinks he is focusing adequately on the 
disadvantaged groups in the face of the pressure on him to spend 
most of his time with students who plan on college. This sort of 
pressure is very real, and there is seldom any balancing pressure in 
the interests of the potential dropout. 



41 - 



In general, the environment of the elementary school is more 
favorable for treatment of symptoms of dropout than is that of the 
high school. The structure is looser, there is more ungraded 
instruction, more focus on the individual pupil, more time per day 
with one or two teachers, more informed concern of the teacher with 
the pupil. The elementary school teacher is generally better 
equipped professionally to deal with the developmental and 
adjustment needs of pupils than is the high school teacher. Whereas 
high school counselors developed in order to help students with 
needs that were not seen or met by high school teachers, school 
psychologists and counselors in the elementary schools focus on 
helping teachers who saw pupil needs and wanted to do more about 
them. Elementary school counselors work more with teachers than 
with pupils. If high school dropout behavior patterns have their 
origins in the elementary school, and they do, there is much good 
will and intelligence there to sense the problem and grapple with 
it. 

The poor academic achievement found in secondary schools is part of 
a continuing pattern that may go back to the fourth and fifth 
grades. If hostility toward school and adults is evidenced in high 
school, this is not necessarily directed specifically toward the 
high school teacher. Because underachievement is often the result 
of basic psychological patterns, it is a great waste of time to 
channel all underachievers routinely to a counselor for brief 
interviews in the vain hope that the counselor can do something with 
them. This generally is understood to mean that the counselor can 
successfully admonish them to become better students--and when this 
doesn't succeed the student is said to be uncooperative! 

Potential dropouts represent a wide range of academic aptitude. It 
is true that over-all estimates suggest that something in excess of 
one-third of the dropouts have academic aptitudes below the so- 
called average range. It is also true that from one-half to two- 
thirds are in the normal range and that a respectable percentage 
have ability levels equal to those of students who enter college. 
The counselor has tasks to do in breaking down the tendency of 
adults to type students. The pernicious influence of such 
stereotyping is at its worst when applied to students who fail to 
conform to the school's expectations of them. 

Modifying the dropout's perception of himself is without doubt the 
counselor's most unique role with the dropout. The counselor is in 
the best position of all school personnel to see the world from the 
dropout's point of view, i.e., he is concerned with the over-all 
life of the student, not his English only or his school life only; 
he is interested in the student's future as well as his present; he 
has contact with many kinds of deviant student behaviors so that he 
is not easily shocked; he, by virtue of certain emphases in his 
professional education, is moderately capable of understanding the 
psychological dynamics of the academically or socially deviant 
student. 

- 42 - 



The dropout is not always a lovable person--he may be aggressive or 
sullen and withdrawn; he sees little sense in school, and has little 
respect for himself or most others. He is different; he has had his 
differences criticized; and he may therefore cherish his differences 
as the only weapon he has with which to fight back. He is certain 
that the school is against him--there is some evidence for this in 
that the dropout is likely to have been "failed" in one or two 
grades, and in that teachers have been critical of him over the 
years. 

The counselor must somehow convince the student that he, the 
counselor, does not react to the student as he, the student, thinks 
everyone else has reacted to him. The counselor then must help the 
dropout to restore a little of his confidence in himself before a 
rational examination can be made of the alternatives open to him. 
The counselor must respect the potential dropout as a person, even 
though he may be unlovely and in a state of academic rebellion. He 
must show an earnest concern in him. He will need to "look up" this 
person and ask him in, for the potential dropout may never come 
voluntarily until it is too late. 

The average middle-class-oriented American, and this includes most 
counselors, still believes that work is virtuous and an occupation 
is a channel to self-realization and a sense of personal 
significance. These aphorisms are time-bound; they are no longer 
true for a large portion of the American population. Work for them 
no longer provides a sense of achievement, and an occupation (a job 
or succession of jobs) may not contribute greatly to one's self- 
real ization. 

No one feels these limitations more keenly than the potential 
dropout. For some, this results from seeing what work and 
occupation mean and do not mean to their family. The counselor must 
not assume that the value structure of the student is the same as 
his own. Conventional vocational guidance will not work well here. 
The counseling done must be based upon work and occupational 
concepts which start from the potential dropout's frame of reference 
about work. 



43 



(10) Andrew Hahn, "Reaching Out to America's Dropouts: What to Do? 1 
Phi Delta Kappan , December 1987, pp. 256-263. 



EDITORS' NOTE: In this article, the author calls for action, 
learning from experience and continually redesigning programs to 
meet comprehensive sets of requirements. The characteristics of 
successful alternative programs are seen to mirror the attributes 
associated with effective schools. 



KEY WORDS: Comprehensive approach Alternative programs 



KEY POINTS: 

Our review of the dropout phenomenon shows it to be a multifaceted 
problem. It starts early, has many causes, and grows incrementally 
worse with each successive year. Moreover, it is a problem that has 
both supply-side causes (school children suffering from a host of 
messy problems) and institutional aspects (encompassing the schools, 
the school boards, and state and federal policies). Our research 
leads us to conclude that the story-behind-the-story in effective 
dropout programs lies in implementation, casework, and long-term 
follow-up activities. The studies that we reviewed only 
occasionally addressed these essential program practices. 

Is scarcity of resources related to a higher dropout rate? The 
answer to this question is a qualified yes. Some researchers 
contend that, where dropout rates are concerned, expenditures are 
less important than a school's organization, the quality of its 
teaching and administration, and its innovations in curriculum. 
Harold Hodgkinson examined retention rates nationwide in 1985 and 
found that teacher salary and per-pupil expenditure were not related 
to dropout rates, while student/teacher ratios did correlate with 
the incidence of dropping out. I should emphasize, however, that 
improving the student/teacher ratio may require employing additional 
teachers, and that takes money. Preventing students from dropping 
out may also involve retraining and increasing the number of 
counselors, implementing a comprehensive health and family planning 
program, providing infant care facilities for teenage mothers, 
developing a cooperative work/education project, offering remedial 
instruction, and establishing connections between the school and 
social service agencies in the community. All of this takes money, 
too. 

Students report many reasons for dropping out: poor grades, dislike 
for school, alienation from peers, marriage or pregnancy, and 
employment. The "good" son or daughter may leave school to help 

- 44 - 



parents and siblings through a financial crisis. Many respondents 
who cite "poor grades" may really mean "school wasn't for me." When 
disadvantaged youths in New York City were asked why they had 
difficulty in school, a little more than one-third blamed 
themselves, another third pegged the problem to their home life or 
other factors beyond their control, and the remaining third faulted 
the schools. Dropouts themselves are divided in their explanations 
of their problems with school, but this much is clear: there is no 
single essential factor. We do know that young people at risk of 
dropping out resist the social control, competition, and order that 
characterize classrooms. 

Our review of the research leads to one major conclusion. An 
effective dropout prevention program at the high school level cannot 
be based on one single element, such as remedial instruction or the 
provision of social services. To succeed, dropout prevention for 
older youths requires a cohesive, integrated effort that combines 
the following components and perhaps others: Mentorships and 
intensive, sustained counseling for troubled youngsters; an array of 
social services, including health care, family planning education, 
and infant care facilities for adolescent mothers; concentrated 
remediation using individualized instruction and competency-based 
curricula; an effective school/business collaboration that provides 
ongoing access to the mainstream economy; improved incentives, 
including financial rewards, for completing high school; year-round 
schools and alternative schools; heightened accountability for 
dropout rates at all levels of the system of public education; and 
involvement of parents and community organizations in dropout 
prevention are all required. 

Hundreds of alternative secondary schools throughout the U.S. offer 
dropouts and potential dropouts a last opportunity to continue or 
resume their education. Alternative schools work well for highly 
motivated former dropouts; they do not always work so well for 
others. The most successful alternative schools were those that 
challenged students academically and that provided personal 
counseling and were staffed by caring adults. Such alternative 
schools share some of the characteristics documented in the 
effective schools literature: highly targeted services for a 
relatively homogeneous school population, strong principals, small 
school size, teachers who actively participate in counseling 
students, student involvement in school governance and classroom 
activity, opportunities for learning by doing, and clear standards, 
rules, and regulations. 

Alternative schools are often the best available option for both 
potential and actual dropouts, especially if the programs employ 
reasonable criteria for eligibility, teach real skills, and 
accommodate working students. Once again, however, alternative 
schools in and of themselves are no guarantee of success for all 
dropouts. 



- 45 - 



There is solid evidence that the Job Corps, the nation's largest 
training program for dropouts, does help participants find 
employment. Certainly, the intensity of services, the mix of 
remedial education and skills training, and the direct federal 
oversight with contracts given to private management combine to 
produce an effective program. In addition, the participants live 
away from home, which frees staff members and participants from 
distracting influences and allows them to take seriously the 
challenge of upgrading skills. Another contributing factor is the 
experience in program planning and design gained by the Job Corps 
during its nearly 25-year history. Throughout this period, the 
program has experimented with learning methods suitable for 
disadvantaged dropouts, including its own approach to competency- 
based, individualized instruction. The approach is now used in many 
centers and has, in fact, become something of a model for regular 
school and training systems. 

Project Redirection offered disadvantaged teenage mothers a variety 
of individualized services, including day care, work experience, 
skills training, basic education, personal counseling, referrals to 
other agencies, and the guidance of an adult mentor. The first-year 
evaluation demonstrated that, at the end of one year, twice as many 
program participants had returned to school as had members of a 
comparison group of teenage mothers. Subsequent evaluations, 
however, were far less positive. The evaluators believe that the 
reasons for failure lie not so much with the program model but with 
its implementation. All the right pieces were present, but they 
were not delivered with enough intensity nor in the correct fashion. 
A new effort, Project New Chance, will test whether a vigorously 
implemented, comprehensive model can work for teenage parents. 

The most vital lesson educators and trainers can derive from this 
review of "second chance" programs is the importance of integrating 
and relating the critical components of a comprehensive effort. 
Conventional education and remediation are not by themselves 
effective for the at-risk population. Isolated work experience will 
not reclaim impoverished and troubled youths. What will work is a 
comprehensive, integrated approach in which each element is 
strengthened and reinforced by the other components of the program. 

The following are among the important lessons to be learned about 
designing programs to prevent students from dropping out and to help 
those who already have dropped out. Isolated work experience 
programs have little value in increasing the employabil ity of 
dropouts. Dropouts should work, but the experience from the work 
sites should be used as pedagogical reinforcement in a classroom 
component that is clearly connected to the job. Dropouts should 
learn, but the curriculum should relate to the "functional" skills 
needed in the workplace. Dropouts should acquire vocational skills, 
but first they need to learn to read. Dropouts should learn to 
read, but the learning environment should not resemble a traditional 
classroom. Dropouts should be taught by caring teachers, but the 

- 46 - 



individuality of each student should be reflected in the teaching 
technology used. Dropouts should be prepared for the labor market 
through pre-employment/work-maturity services — but not until they 
are genuinely ready to conduct a job search. Writing resumes and 
practicing job interview skills should be "exit" services — not the 
centerpiece of dropout prevention or remediation. Above all, 
program services must to some degree be intensive; in the jargon of 
professional educators, there must be sufficient "time-on-task." 



ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Andrew Hahn is an assistant dean of the Heller 
School for Advanced Studies, Brandeis University, Waltham, Mass., 
where he teaches human resources policy. 



KEY REFERENCES CITED: 

Hahn, A., Danzberger, J., and Lefkowitz, B. Dropouts in America: 
Enough is Known for Action , Washington, D.C.: Institute for 
Educational Leadership, 1987. 

Lefkowitz, B. Tough Change: Growing Up on Your Own in America , New 
York: Free Press, 1987. 

Featherstone, H. "Repeating a Grade: Does It Help?," Harvard 
Education Letter , March 1986. 



47 - 



(11) Catherine Camp, Dropouts: A Discussion Paper . California 
Legislative Assembly, Office of Research, May 1980. 



EDITORS' NOTE: In this paper prepared for the California 

Legislature, Camp discusses some of the issues relating to dropouts, 
then reviews some apparently successful programs in California high 
schools. Based on this review, the author offers several general 
policy recommendations with special attention to alternative 
programs. 



KEY WORDS: Comprehensive approach Absences from school 

Alternative programs Counseling 

Vocational education 



KEY POINTS: 

Quitting school can be the result of a complex set of factors which 
can be reduced to two common themes: 1) those forces within the 
school which create student dissatisfaction and alienation leading 
to a feeling of being "pushed out"; and 2) those forces outside the 
school which attract students away from school, such as jobs, 
marriage and child bearing. The factors leading to a decision to 
leave school are not limited to simply being pushed out or 
conversely being pulled out, but obviously involve a complex 
interplay between the two. The conclusion from this analysis, 
however, is that the more dominant force is the failure of the 
educational system to adequately gauge and provide early 
intervention for those students whose growing dissatisfaction with 
school culminates in their dropping out. 

Dropping out of school is frequently preceded by irregular 
attendance and truancy. For many young people, the connections with 
school may be so minimal that it is no longer their major activity, 
although they remain technically enrolled in school. The reasons 
cited for absenteeism by school administrators, attendance 
personnel, counselors, teachers and students are also virtually 
identical to national summaries of reasons why children drop out of 
school. Students are absent because of illness, dislike or boredom 
with school, social adjustment problems, family or personal matters, 
influence of friends, and academic problems. 

Academic problems also are a cause for children dropping out of 
school. Many school dropouts have been retained in a grade at least 
once. Many have had behavioral problems, with suspension and 
expulsion histories. In many cases, dropouts have felt unable, 
emotionally or economically, to participate in extra-curricular 
activities such as athletics, school newspaper, yearbooks and class 

- 48 - 



dances. Dropouts frequently have problems in reading and 
mathematics. Few of these children have had positive relationships 
with teachers, nor are they perceived favorably by most of their 
teachers. 

The chances of work as an alternative to school are not good. The 
very factors describing young people who are out of school are the 
same factors for those young people whose participation in the work 
force is smallest, and whose unemployment rate in the work force is 
highest. These factors are minority status, lack of a high school 
diploma, low-income families, central cities, and sex (a significant 
number are women). A review of the labor force material coupled 
with a review of school dropout information leads us to the stark 
conclusion that it is not the attraction of the labor force that is 
pulling them out of school, but rather it is the school, or their 
perception of the school, that is pushing them out or causing them 
to leave. 

Pregnancy and marriage are significant factors when teens drop out 
of school. Pregnancy is associated with significant school dropout 
rates, and the prognosis for stable family building or economic 
stability for teenage parents is poor. It is not clear whether 
pregnancy and marriage cause teens to drop out of school, or whether 
certain teens are motivated to leave school and begin their own 
families sooner, and do so through pregnancy. It is clear that a 
large number of the out-of -school young people are parents and/or 
married, or soon will be. 

Several programs designed to serve young people in their transition 
to adulthood were explored. General themes common to all programs 
and which appear to be critical to the success of any program aimed 
at reducing dropouts and improving attendance are as follows: 

o Schools need to provide diverse learning opportunities and 
teaching styles and formats. 

o Students need credentials reflecting diverse achievement. The 
credentials would require development of competency testing 
that reflects the differing backgrounds and diverse achievement 
of young people. Current testing and credential! ing tend to 
focus on too narrow a range of academic competencies. 

o Local agencies are the appropriate place to determine what 
programs suit local needs, and to assume responsibility for 
carrying out programs to meet those needs. 

o State administrative and legislative bodies are the appropriate 
place to set goals, define state and local roles, and provide 
technical assistance and coordination among programs. 



49 - 



o Specific goals to reduce dropouts and increase attendance need 
to be assigned to local schools and such goals should be 
established and monitored at the state level. 

o Most local agencies do not need more laws, regulations, new 
programs, or even more money; existing programs must focus on 
goals that identify an intent to promote diverse ways of 
serving young people and specify ways to monitor the 
achievement of those goals. 

o Closer cooperation and coordination is needed in virtually all 
programs between the educational system and the community, 
particularly involving private sector business in shared 
programs to train and assist young people with their transition 
into employment. 

Imposing legal punishment for truancy raises a basic question 
regarding the purpose of school. Enforced attendance cannot 
contribute much to the acquisition of proficiency skills for adult 
work and living, which are among the goals of education. Programs 
to provide skills which are relevant to the adult world in an 
environment that values the personalities and various learning 
styles of all young people do bring school dropouts and nonattenders 
back into the school system. We believe these types of programs are 
a more appropriate and desirable public policy alternative than 
jailing nonviolent, nondestructive young people who have already 
suffered the stigma of school failure. 

Most sources who discuss absenteeism or dropouts in the context of 
attendance and truancy programs suggest that expansion of 
educational options to provide relevant learning experiences for all 
students is successful. Such expansion is a positive option, rather 
than punitive, and recognizes that the responsibility for failure to 
educate belongs to the school and community, as well as to the 
parent and student. Options would include continuation schools, 
independent study, work experience, vocational education and other 
nontraditional learning experiences. 

All the successful attendance and truancy programs we reviewed or 
visited had common themes: 1) expectations and outcomes are clearly 
defined; 2) policies are consistently enforced; and 3) programs are 
developed with broad participation, including parents and students. 

Continuation high schools provide an alternative to full-time 
comprehensive high school, and have become an integral part of the 
secondary system. Continuation schools provide part-time schooling 
for young people with employment or other needs in a setting that 
focuses on individualized instruction, preparation for work, and 
basic skill acquisition. Continuation high schools were established 
in 1919, the same time compulsory education was extended to 16- and 
17-year-olds, primarily to serve the needs of working students. The 
target group has been expanded to include dropouts and potential 

- 50 - 



dropouts, truants, young people involved in juvenile court 

proceedings, children with behavioral problems, children with health 

and disability conditions that limit full-time schooling, and young 
parents. 

Students at continuation high schools must meet district graduation 
requirements and stringent attendance requirements, but the hours 
are flexible depending on the students' work schedules. Students 
are required to meet district proficiency standards. Continuation 
schools operate with a 20 to 1 student-teacher ratio, and state 
level administrators stress that a small, individualized setting is 
necessary to serve the needs of the nontraditional learners who are 
attracted to such schools. Counseling is a critical element to such 
schools, providing support for student achievement goals and 
employment, and follow-up counseling for truants and those youth 
with absence and discipline problems. The individualized curriculum 
stresses diagnosis of individual learning styles and goals, 
flexibility in hours and work assignments, and student 
responsibility for achievement based on negotiated contracts for 
learning goals. 

Continuation high schools have been the primary program for dropouts 
in California secondary schools. Our interviews and on-site visits 
discovered several strengths and weaknesses in this alternative 
education setting. Strong points in the continuation model are: 
small class and school size; flexible curricula, with individualized 
learning processes; strong counseling component; commitment to 
general education or the acquisition of basic skills in the context 
of a transition to work or further education and training; and newly 
established monitoring and technical assistance by the State 
Department of Education to support quality programming. 

Problems raised in our review of continuation high schools are as 
follows: 1) Low esteem and status in the secondary education 
system, because continuation schools are sometimes seen as a dumping 
ground for "bad kids." Some districts view continuation high 
schools as a treatment program, rather than an alternative to the 
regular system, with the goal being the return of the students to 
comprehensive high school. This suggests, continuation high schools 
may need increased recognition as a responsive and credible 
alternative learning environment; 2) Unclear enrollment policies in 
some schools, with students who voluntarily enroll, who are referred 
by juvenile courts or SARB's, or younger students with problems who 
have been referred from disciplinary treatment programs. 
Continuation schools need better defined goals and enrollment 
policies which set priorities and identify the types of students 
they can best serve; and 3) Lack of state level monitoring to 
determine how many continuation high school students finish school. 
There is also a lack of information on how continuation high school 
curricula fit into proficiency exams established by districts. 



- 51 



Continuation high schools have established a learning mode that 
closes many of the gaps our research identified in the formal, 
academically focussed comprehensive high schools. The most needed 
component is education and leadership at the state administrative 
and legislative levels to encourage individualized alternative 
education for students whose future in comprehensive high schools 
will likely be failure. Close attention to the use of continuation 
schools for disciplinary treatment, which may reduce the 
effectiveness of providing an education for young people who are 
ready for transition to work or more specific training, is also 
needed. 

Counseling services can help identify and treat young people who 
have low attendance records or are potential school dropouts. Many 
of these young people have a poor self-image, and there is a strong 
correlation between self-concept and achievement. In fact, the 
literature on dropouts finds a stronger correlation between self- 
concept and achievement than between ability and academic 
achievement. 

In spite of increased public support and staff resources for 
counseling and guidance programs, students in secondary schools, 
particularly in urban areas, express the need for better planned, 
more confidential, and more comprehensive guidance services. There 
are gaps in the areas of information and guidance for realistic job 
placement and career planning, including future education; direction 
to appropriate courses for graduation; and assistance in 
understanding themselves and relating to others. Students speak of 
a lack of coordination between in-school and out-of-school 
resources, and the isolation of the secondary school from "real 
life." They also feel a lack of regular and timely input to 
planning and evaluating counseling services, and that there is 
persistent sexist and racist stereotyping in career counseling, job 
placement, class assignments and access to college information. 

The predominant opinion among the district staff we visited was that 
the statutory goal of secondary vocational education should be to 
provide eyery student with the basic skills necessary to assume an 
entry level position of employment upon high school graduation and 
to instill the work attitudes, work habits, career planning and job 
seeking skills necessary to find and keep employment related to 
their career goals. It is good if a student leaves high school with 
specific occupational skills beyond the entry level, but it is more 
important for high schools to concentrate on teaching basic 
employability skills. Specific occupational skills can be developed 
later, either on the job or through adult schools or community 
colleges. Staff felt there was a particular need for this kind of 
policy direction for high schools. 

All districts expressed concern that the "back to basics" movement 
was harming vocational and career education programs. In response 
to public pressure, district governing boards have adopted 

- 52 - 



additional academic course requirements for graduation. Students 
are often forced to drop vocational education courses in order to 
take the additional academic courses necessary for graduation. Many 
students were placed in vocational education programs because they 
failed in the mainstream college preparatory program. To take these 
students out of vocational programs, which are more relevant to 
their needs than most academic courses, in order to place them in an 
environment in which they are bound to fail, is counterproductive. 
In addition, basic proficiency requirements established by districts 
are usually defined in terms of academic skills rather than work 
related and basic employment skills. As a result, vocationally 
oriented students are ill -equipped to pass proficiency exams, and, 
often must drop vocational education courses to take remedial 
academic courses. 

It is difficult not to conclude that these young people have in 
effect been pushed out of school because of the lack of appropriate 
programs. In human terms, the future for these young people is not 
bright, and leaving school is not a reasonable choice among 
alternative paths to the future. The consequences of leaving school 
are sufficiently negative to doubt it is done by informed choice. 
We have reviewed programs established to treat dropouts or potential 
dropouts, and have found that it is possible to create successful 
programs for divergent learners. Diverse educational settings are 
rarely more costly than academic training for college-bound young 
people, and many examples exist of local programs which work to 
serve diverse student needs. 

The standard comprehensive high school too often teaches and 
credentials a limited set of cognitive skills appropriate for 
further education, but not immediately transferable to the world of 
work. Some young people need jobs or an alternative to high 
education. Failure of the schools to effectively address the needs 
of these students by assisting them with the transition from school 
to work, or providing them with an education consistent with the 
transition, has made school of little use to such students. The 
goal of establishing a more formal and recognized array of 
alternatives should not be to "hold" young people in school, but to 
appropriately link young adults to jobs and careers. For example, 
such a linkage may involve the school's provision of limited basic 
skill training prior to placement in existing community or workplace 
job training programs. The state, administratively and 
legislatively, must provide the necessary leadership to assure local 
development of educational alternatives and competency 
credential! ing. Our review indicates that alternative education 
programs that succeed in credential! ing skills for a broad range of 
futures are not more costly than the core programs in most 
comprehensive high schools. In general, neither new authority nor 
new money are needed. 



53 



We found that the characteristics of programs that achieve a 
reduction in dropouts and provide a broad range of students with 
proficiencies are similar, whether the program is based in a 
continuation school, is an independent study program, a vocational 
education or a pregnancy and parenting model. Successful programs 
include: Development of relevant, tangible skills, connected with 
income earning jobs; development of self-esteem, intimacy, 
recognition and self-preservation skills that many young people 
lack; strong student input so that young people participate in 
decisions to assure that programs meet their individual needs; 
formulation of effective networks with community groups and 
agencies, including medical personnel, employers, unions and 
community youth workers; committed staff who seek the assignment; 
public information designed to improve community understanding of 
the problem and develop public commitment to serving the diversity 
of young people; larger program networks that support, strengthen 
and expand the impact of individual programs; appropriate 
accountability and monitoring systems that provide incentives to 
achieve program goals. 

Students should be referred to alternative educational models before 
a pattern of repeated failure is established. Present practice 
frequently provides intervention and treatment only when poor 
student attendance has become a pattern, and school failure is a 
reality for the student. New guidelines should include 
responsibility for community education about available alternatives, 
and elicit community involvement in developing a network of 
educational alternatives that prepare students for existing jobs. 



KEY REFERENCES CITED: 

Kaplan, J. and Luck, E. "The Dropout Phenomenon as a Social 
Problem," The Educational Forum , November 1977. 

Knoeppel , J. "The Students Served in Continuation Education," in 
Journal of Secondary Education , November 1969. 

Reed, D. "The Nature and Function of Continuation Education," in 
Journal of Secondary Education , November 1969. 



- 54 - 



(12) Nancy Paulu, Dealing with Dropouts: The Urban Superintendents ' 
Call to Action , Office of Educational Research and Improvement, 
November 1987. 



EDITORS' NOTE: This report by a group of urban school 

superintendents outlines six strategies being used to lower dropout 
rates in some of the nation's largest school districts. They 
recommend that schools intervene early, create positive school 
climates, set high expectations, select and develop strong teachers, 
provide a broad range of instructional programs and initiate 
collaborative efforts with parents and the community. For each 
strategy they define specific tactics and offer specific examples of 
where these programs have been put in place and appear to be 
working. 



KEY WORDS: Comprehensive approach Timely identification 

Role of principals and teachers Alternative programs 



KEY POINTS: 

From their many years of experience in educating at-risk students, 
members of the Urban Superintendents Network have learned an 
important lesson: No single, magical formula exists to hold 
potential dropouts in school or lure those who leave back to the 
classroom. Different communities, schools, and students have 
varying needs; what works for a bored but gifted youngster from the 
Bronx may be inappropriate for a chronically truant adolescent from 
Portland, Oregon. Students leave school for many reasons and under 
different conditions. Therefore, programs to hold them there must 
be imaginative, comprehensive, and tailored to meet individual 
differences. The best prevention plans serve youngsters from 
preschool through high school and address the many factors that 
cause students to drop out. 

Recognize that without special help early in their development, 
underprivileged youngsters may never compete on equal terms with 
privileged ones. Research shows that students who drop out display 
academic problems as early as the third grade. The superintendents 
also recognize that the earlier they intervene—preferably in the 
preschool years and with the involvement of parents—the greater the 
dividends. Because a large percent of those who drop out do so in 
high school, a tendency exists to view the dropout problem as 
falling solely within the high schools' domain. This attitude is 



55 



changing, however, as educators develop more sophisticated ways to 
identify behavioral, attitudinal, and cognitive problems--not just 
in junior high or grade school, but even before a child starts 
formal schooling. 

The urban public school superintendents believe that early 
intervention makes great sense in light of current knowledge about 
the cumulative process that leads to dropping out. The downward 
spiral often begins with early family experiences. Children who 
grow up in stressful, indifferent, or hostile environments are more 
apt to become insecure, anxious about learning, and distrustful of 
adults. Children from healthy home environments enter school with 
their natural curiosity, their interest in learning, and their sense 
of well-being intact. An at-risk youth's background can be the 
precursor of school experiences that add to his alienation and poor 
self-image. Without self-confidence, these children will never 
become avid learners or fulfill their potential. Special attention 
from educators or a non-school source may be needed to make this 
happen. 

Preschool and early childhood programs head the urban 
superintendents' list of ways to help at-risk youngsters succeed. 
Evaluations of top-quality preschool programs suggest that early 
intervention can have long-term effects on disadvantaged children by 
decreasing their need for special programs and lowering delinquency, 
pregnancy, and dropout rates. These programs are also thought to 
improve the academic and social behavior of their enrol lees when 
they reach high school . 

Monitoring the academic and social progress of children carefully is 
the best way to make sure students receive suitable special services 
throughout their years in school. It enables educators to determine 
which students need help, what type of help they need, and how they 
are progressing. 

Fortunately, it is easier to monitor students today than it once was 
because computers are available to store and retrieve information 
rapidly. Furthermore, better tests are available (some nationally 
and some locally developed) to gauge a child's readiness for school 
and to track his or her progress. While monitoring should begin 
early, to affect the dropout rate it must continue throughout a 
youngster's years in school. 

Strong principals can create a vision for their schools and empower 
their staffs to move toward it in a collaboration with the 
community. They can ensure that human and material resources are 
properly managed and coordinated. They can provide teachers with 
the time needed to instruct and motivate their students. They can 
help teachers to develop a challenging and appropriate curriculum. 
With the administration's approval, principals can select their own 



56 



staff members to assure that each possesses qualities suitable for 
their school. They can set high expectations. Finally, principals 
can encourage their staffs to believe that all students, including 
at-risk ones, are educable. 

Principals can also help assure that at-risk students receive 
adequate personal attention. Students who drop out invariably 
complain that they left because they felt that the principal and 
teachers weren't interested in them. Principals in many of the best 
schools know the name of eyery student, and teachers go out of their 
way to make all students feel welcome and to serve as mentors. 

Many superintendents, teachers, parents, and school board members 
believe classes must be small for at-risk students to receive 
personal attention. Research on the impact of class size on student 
achievement is mixed. However, many educators believe that students 
learn more in small classes, providing the teacher takes advantage 
of the opportunities that small classes offer. Common sense 
suggests that small classes may make a difference for some students 
with special needs because they increase the time and attention a 
teacher has to give each student. Small classes also increase the 
time a teacher has to plan the curriculum and decrease record 
keeping. But for small classes to benefit students, teachers must 
change their instructional practices. 

Counseling can provide at-risk students with individual attention. 
These students often need more support than a regular school 
counselor has the time to provide. Therefore all of the staff must 
share counseling responsibilities—not only the regular counselors, 
but social workers, attendance clerks, assistant principals, 
secretaries, custodians, and especially teachers. 

To provide potential dropouts with the necessary support, many 
districts have expanded their counseling services. For instance, 
some now place counselors in elementary schools, counsel the entire 
families of potential dropouts, and link at-risk students with 
mentors in business and industry. Other districts assign fewer 
students to counselors of at-risk students so that each youngster 
receives more attention, and many districts make a special effort to 
select counselors for at-risk students who have shown they work 
particularly well with them. 

A report by the Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy 
underscores the vital importance of involving teachers in decisions 
that affect them. A rich source of creative innovation and 
cumulative knowledge is lost when teachers are excluded, the report 
concludes. Over time, failing to involve teachers demoralizes them, 
increases their alienation, and saps their energy, which could be 
productively used to bring about change. 



- 57 



The urban superintendents believe that students from whom much is 
expected can learn more — providing they receive the support they 
need to meet the standards. If educators consistently communicate 
that students must attend class regularly, behave once they get 
there, and strive toward excellence, they will be more likely to do 
so. Attendance standards are a major concern to urban school 
districts because a child who is not in class clearly cannot develop 
the skills required for school success. When a student regularly 
cuts one class or fails to show up for the entire day, this should 
alert educators that the student might not view the school as a 
friendly place to learn and socialize. When a school's overall 
attendance rate if low, this may signal that some of its practices 
and policies do not respond to the students' needs. 

Students who drop out nearly always have attendance problems 
beginning in elementary school, which is why policies to monitor and 
improve attendance are central to many urban schools' dropout 
prevention plans. Nationally, about 94 percent of all students 
attend class on any single day, but in some inner-city schools the 
attendance rates are far lower. 

The superintendents have found several policies and practices that 
can contribute to poor attendance. Failure to inform parents heads 
the list. Parents need to be told when their children are absent so 
parents can urge them to attend. Second, some educators fail to 
acknowledge a student's return to school after a prolonged absence. 
Many truant students do not want to give up on school, but returning 
youngsters often find that no one helps them to reenter. Third, 
many districts have inappropriate suspension policies for truant or 
tardy students. These policies often fail to improve attendance 
because they do not address the reasons students are absent. 
Tardiness is often a symptom of school alienation, and turning late 
students away can feed their alienation. Some districts also refer 
truant students to court in hopes of "scaring" them back to school. 
This is not apt to work unless these students receive the services 
they need to change the factors contributing to the truancy. 

Many school districts have raised academic performance standards. 
Critics contend that requiring students to complete more academic 
subjects and vigorously testing students to make certain subjects 
are mastered will drive at-risk students out of school. However, 
the superintendents favor keeping high standards — as long as low- 
achieving students are given the academic support they need to meet 
the standards. 

Unfortunately, not many States have provided more money for students 
requiring additional help to meet the standards. Nevertheless, some 
districts have achieved success with several strategies. These 
include longer school days and school years; evening, after-school, 
and weekend classes; summer school; tutoring; transitional programs; 
remedial teachers; and incentive and motivational programs. All of 
these help at-risk students improve academically. They also provide 

- 58 - 



an alternative to grade retention, a practice most districts use for 
students who have not developed enough academically or socially to 
succeed in the next grade. Although holding students back a grade 
may not cause them to drop out, the superintendents have found that 
a large proportion of those who drop out have been retained at some 
point during their school years. 

Retention by itself generally does not help at-risk students to make 
significant academic strides. However, the practice can be 
beneficial if students who repeat a grade are taught the material 
they previously failed to master in a new way. Unfortunately, this 
often does not occur, which fuels a youngster's low self-esteem and 
causes his or her motivation to wane. If students must be retained, 
it usually is best to do so early in their education to minimize the 
social stigma. 

Longer school days and school years are high on the superintendents' 
list of alternatives to retention. Research, documenting logic, 
consistently shows that students who spend more time on academic 
activities learn more. Some superintendents worry that longer 
school days and school years will push out at-risk students who 
already feel alienated from school. But most believe that needy 
students can gain from the extra time. Summer school has many 
benefits. It can provide students with extra hours to master their 
coursework, and it can help them retain some of what they would 
normally forget during the summer vacation. In California, the high 
school dropout rate increased between 1978 and 1979 when summer 
school offerings were drastically cut. Remedial summer programs can 
save the district money by reducing the number of students who must 
repeat a grade. They can also provide language instruction for 
students who speak little or no English. 

Programs to ease the transition into high school provide support for 
potential dropouts, who often have a hard time adjusting to high 
school. Ninth and tenth grade students are at a critical stage of 
adolescence. Just as they are struggling to come to terms with 
physical and emotional changes, they are entering new schools that 
may seem large and impersonal. Moreover, they are required to take 
many new courses, and no one teacher is responsible for their 
instruction. 

Some districts have trained their administrators and staffs in how 
to manage conflict with hopes of improving their ability to prevent 
discipline problems. Many districts have tried reducing 
suspensions. Educators recognize that it may be necessary to 
suspend some students in order to provide others with a climate in 
which they can learn. However, when students are asked to leave 
school, they are deprived of time for instruction, which further 
distances them from school. Alternatives to suspension include 
conferences with the student and his or her parents (particularly 
important because they improve communication with families, a 
critical first step to changing students' behavior); "Time out" or 

- 59 - 



in-school suspension and truancy centers; and intensive counseling. 
Principals exert a major influence on a school's entire climate and 
culture. But few educators are in a better position to affect the 
lives of students than teachers, who mold attitudes toward school 
and play a powerful role in what youngsters learn. All students 
need teachers who know their subject and the techniques required to 
communicate it. They also need teachers who respect and support 
them and who maintain high expectations. Teachers of at-risk 
students must be especially committed to each one. They must be 
able to counsel students and tailor instruction to individual and 
group differences. And they must encourage even the most troubled 
and academically disabled to succeed. 

Districts must also have sound hiring procedures to assure that 
those selected will work well with a range of students, including 
youngsters most apt to drop out. Schools and students may benefit 
when educators in each building can select staffs suited to student 
needs. However, the urban school superintendents recognize that 
contractual agreements and other legal considerations may make this 
difficult. The superintendents believe that all teachers, even the 
best ones, need periodic professional nourishment and constant 
support. Therefore, they believe districts should regularly provide 
the entire teaching force with in-service training appropriate for 
teachers with varying skills, experience, and work situations. Not 
surprisingly, teachers may resist instruction when it is mandated 
for all but is appropriate for only a few. Teachers should help 
design the training so it is closely tied to a school's 
instructional program and environment. 

It is essential that school officials hire the best teachers and 
provide them with opportunities to fine-tune their skills. But 
school officials must also allow teachers to do their best work. 
This is most apt to happen when teachers are treated as 
professionals. They must be given autonomy, in exchange for which 
they should be held accountable for their work. They must also be 
given encouragement and the resources they need. Teachers work best 
in pleasant and safe environments and when not overburdened by 
disciplinary or administrative tasks. When teachers feel 
unsupported, they are more likely to pass their discouragement along 
to their students. When teachers work in a collegial atmosphere, 
their effectiveness and their attendance often improves. 

Youngsters whose families start them off on the right foot, who 
attend good schools, who have caring and committed teachers, and 
from whom much is expected are most apt to do well in school. 
Youngsters who lack these advantages — even some who possess them-- 
may need special programs in order to do well. Some students 
require more time than others, or special treatment, to master their 
coursework. Youngsters raised in non-English speaking families may 
need special language instruction. Students who arrive at school 
hungry may need help from community agencies and the schools to see 
that they receive a nutritional breakfast. Emotionally bruised 

- 60 - 



students may need counseling. Pregnant girls may require a helping 
hand to face the challenges of motherhood. Many potential dropouts 
are at risk in more than one way. For instance, they may have poor 
grades, be chronically truant, come from disadvantaged homes, and be 
in trouble with the law. Therefore, many of the most effective 
programs attack the dropout problem on several fronts 
simultaneously. 

Work experience programs motivate some students to remain in school 
until they graduate. By providing them with entry-level job skills 
and paid employment, these programs enable at-risk students to see 
the tangible rewards of a high school education at the same time 
they are trained for an occupation. These programs also provide 
academic instruction. Work experience and compensatory programs, as 
well as magnet and alternative schools and programs for non-English 
speaking students, can all help to address the dropout problem. 

A growing number of people, organizations, and institutions together 
are developing strategies to hold youngsters in school until they 
graduate. Many of their efforts greatly enhance the chance for at- 
risk students to stay in school. Parents, the juvenile justice 
system, religious organizations, social service agencies, youth 
employment and training programs, policymakers, businesses, and 
industry can each offer invaluable expertise and resources. A 
creative summer school program for dropout-prone youngsters may be 
easy enough for a school district, working alone, to plan and to 
administer. But health professionals and the juvenile justice 
system may also need to get into the act with a dropout prevention 
program aimed at chemically dependent teens, and support from 
businesses is essential when a work study program is created. 

Schools, communities, and businesses have forged partnerships to 
reduce the dropout rate in many major American cities. Schools and 
businesses have formed compacts; businesses have "adopted" schools; 
businessmen and businesswomen serve as mentors to students and 
provide them with scholarships. Specifics of the programs vary, but 
they accomplish many of the same goals. They provide at-risk 
students with emotional and financial support, they offer incentives 
to attend school, and they introduce youngsters to the world of 
work. 

Urban superintendents agree that involving parents is crucial to 
keeping students in school. Parents who encourage their children to 
succeed in school beginning in the early years exert a powerful 
influence over who stays and who leaves. Unfortunately, the bond 
between school and home is characteristically weak for potential 
dropouts. The urban superintendents believe the link between home 
and school must be forged early--preferably in preschool, before the 
high-risk students' problems have enlarged. The superintendents 
recognize that the parent is the child's first and most influential 
teacher. Many school districts have designed ways to reach parents 
and involve them directly in keeping students in school. Some 

- 61 - 



schedule conferences before work or conduct telephone conferences in 
the evening. Some offer classes to teach parents to read. Some use 
electronic telephone calling systems to let parents know when their 
children are absent. 

A joint effort is also required to cope with teen pregnancy. In the 
past, schools viewed this problem as falling within the domain of 
home and the community. Some educators continue to believe that 
schools should not become involved in this issue. However, most 
districts believe they must address it, since such an overwhelming 
percentage of teenage mothers leave school before graduating. 

Today, most districts provide human development programs to help 
students learn about their physical and emotional growth. These 
classes may start in the early grades and continue through high 
school. Schools also serve teens who are about to become or are 
parents. This area is controversial, and varied approaches are 
being tried in different districts. Some districts, together with 
city health departments or other agencies, run school clinics, most 
of which operate with non-school funds. Information from Hartford 
and Philadelphia indicate that pregnant students who receive support 
and services are less apt to drop out. Most districts also offer 
programs within the regular schools or have established separate 
schools for pregnant students. Some provide both. 

Many urban superintendents believe media campaigns may help reduce 
the dropout rate, although no research exists on their impact. 
Nevertheless, several school districts have used radio spots and 
poster campaigns to lower the dropout rate. Chicago hired an 
advertising agency to develop more positive images of the city's 
public schools. The agency produced a televised public service 
announcement, which invites community residents to volunteer in 
their neighborhood schools and urges all Chicagoans to take an 
interest in the public schools. The mayor of Miami is writing ewery 
high school student a personal note saying how important it is to 
stay in school --the same message he conveys in school visits. 

These strategies cannot provide a complete solution to the dropout 
problem, but they offer an important start. The national dropout 
rate will not decrease overnight. The complex problems that give 
rise to it defy simple solutions and quick fixes. The droves of 
students that leave our schools demand our attention. Nothing less 
than a full commitment of our energy, time, and resources will 
enable us to eradicate this problem. Only a united and 
comprehensive effort will allow America's children to look forward 
to a brighter future. 



62 - 



(13) Margaret Terry Orr, "What to do About Youth Dropouts? A 
Summary of Solutions." Structured Employment/Economic 
Development Corporation (SEEDCO), New York: 1987. 



EDITORS' NOTE: This report summarizes fourteen in-depth case 
studies of programs addressing the dropout problem. Extracted from 
the book Keeping Students In School , the paper outlines six 
components of a comprehensive strategy aimed at potential dropouts: 
Supplementary in- school programs, external support services, 
comprehensive school -affiliated programs, programs for dropouts, 
school system-wide approaches, and city-wide, community-based 
approaches. 



KEY WORDS: Comprehensive approach Alternative programs 



KEY POINTS: 

Through extensive consultation with educators, trainers, and policy 
and program specialists, we developed a framework for designing 
programs and appropriate service strategies aimed at the youth 
dropout problem. Fourteen programs were selected to represent a 
range of approaches and were identified through a wide search of 
education and employment and training programs and projects. Each 
program was visited by a team of researchers who interviewed 
directors, staff, and students and observed classes and other 
program activities. 

The causes of dropping out are numerous and stem from many of the 
economic and social circumstances that are closely related to other 
youth problems, including adolescent parenthood, unemployment, drug 
abuse, and crime. The solution is not simply to make existing 
schools and programs more attractive to encourage dropout-prone 
students to stay. The interrelated causes and problems of dropping 
out call for comprehensive multiservice approaches to prevent 
students from leaving school too early and to help those who have 
left to complete their education and obtain employment. 

In an attempt to intervene more effectively, states and local 
communities have begun to explore how to serve their youth dropout 
population. The most common approach is to add new funding-- 
generally or specifically for programs directed to preventing 
students from dropping out. Increasingly, too, state and local 
agencies are initiating collaborative projects, such as combining 
education and employment and training resources and services to 
serve these youth comprehensively. 



63 - 



From a review of the nature and context of the youth dropout 
problem, several program planning principles become clear. Because 
dropping out is a complex problem that stems from numerous causes 
and because it exists in varying degrees, several kinds of 
programmatic solutions are needed. And because the problem is the 
responsibility of many service sectors, these solutions ought to 
come from many sources. But the solutions are not limited to 
designing and adding new programs. Indeed, it seems that resolving 
the youth dropout problem requires a systematic change in our 
schools and our accountability as communities, states, and a nation. 

Until recently, only three general approaches existed to serve 
potential dropouts or those who have left school: Compensatory 
education, alternative education, and employment and training 
programs. 

Compensatory education encompasses primarily reading and mathematics 
assistance for poorly performing students. It has been established 
in local schools through substantial federal, state, and local 
funding directed to serving economically disadvantaged students 
experiencing academic problems, most of them in elementary school. 
Limited evaluations have demonstrated the effectiveness of 
compensatory education in improving achievement in reading and math 
among participants in comparison to other students. And to the 
extent that educational performance reduces the chances of dropping 
out, compensatory education is a useful strategy. Public schools 
also commonly offer many kinds of alternative programs for special - 
needs students, including those likely to drop out. While no large- 
scale evaluation has been done of such programs, there is some 
limited evidence of their effectiveness in serving potential 
dropouts. 

The third primary approach to serving youth dropouts is through the 
highly decentralized and diverse public employment and training 
programs. In these programs, which are usually funded through 
federal and other public and private sources, economically 
disadvantaged youth and adults receive training, employment 
preparation, and job placement. Reviews of the outcomes of 
demonstration youth employment and training programs implemented 
during the late 1970s show that work experience is not enough to 
address the employment needs of these youth or to encourage them to 
return to school long enough to graduate. Youth dropouts may need 
more job readiness training and support services as part of an 
overall program. Finally, youth dropouts need an educational 
program that addresses their basic-skill deficiencies while 
preparing them for employment. 

The lessons learned from the existing approaches to serving dropout- 
prone youth demonstrate necessary program features of service 
delivery, instructional content, and staff and organization. The 
following features are recommended: 1) Programs should be kept 
small to facilitate an intimate and supportive environment for 

- 64 - 



students and a collegial relationship among the staff. 2) 
Instruction should include basic-skill remediation, employment 
preparation, and job training to assist students both in graduating 
from high school and in preparing for post-high school employment. 
3) Academic instruction and experiential learning, such as 
employment training, should be mixed to reinforce each other. 4) 
Programs should be structured to help students cope with social, 
economic, and other problems that are barriers to their continued 
education, either directly or through referral. 

Based on our review of the nature of the youth dropout problem, the 
kinds of services available, and recommendations on what is needed, 
we have devised a program planning framework of a range of 
approaches. The framework has six components. The first type of 
program provides supportive counseling and job readiness preparation 
to marginally performing students who are still in school. Creation 
of support groups or part-time employment is a low-cost means of 
assisting these youth. These programs can be easily sponsored by 
organizations external to the schools, but they can be integrated 
with an existing educational program. 

The second group of programs is designed for youth whose economic, 
family, or personal responsibilities keep them out of school. These 
programs are structured in ways that help students cope with their 
competing responsibilities and provide a means for them to complete 
high school. Such programs, because of their attention to external 
problems, can often be funded through state and federal sources 
specifically designed for these support service needs. 

The third group is made up of comprehensive programs for students 
who are likely to drop out because of serious academic and 
attendance problems. These programs often combine an array of 
education, employment preparation, and counseling services for 
potential dropouts in a comprehensive, multiservice approach to 
encourage students to remain in school. They are designed to 
address early manifestations of academic and attendance problems 
intensively. These programs can easily make use of private-sector 
resources for program content and funding. 

The fourth category includes comprehensive programs for students who 
have already dropped out. Their main focus is on helping young 
people to achieve basic-skill performance levels and to pass the 
GED, while helping them to prepare for employment. 

The fifth type of program illustrates how school systems can combine 
targeted and general strategies to increase the number of students 
who stay in school and graduate. This is done by combining 
alternative programs for students at risk of dropping out with 
consideration of ways to restructure the schools to respond better 
to students' varied educational needs. 



65 



The sixth type goes beyond the school system-wide approach to 
encompass the larger community or city. It is a strategy that draws 
upon resources of businesses, universities, and other social 
agencies. It assumes that dropping out is more than a school system 
problem. 

The 14 programs considered in the study vary widely in design, but 
all reflect common short- and long-term goals. In the short term, 
the program staff have tried to keep youth engaged academically: to 
give them basic reading and computation skills; to expose them to 
the world of work; and to prepare them for employment. The long- 
term goals of the 14 programs are to see that the young people 
graduate from high school or pass the GED, and to see that the youth 
become employed or go on to advanced training. 

Most of the 14 programs have addressed the major flaws of earlier 
approaches by putting a strong emphasis on basic-skills improvement 
and on assistance with personal and family problems. The strong 
emphasis on employment preparation and work experience serves a dual 
function. It makes it clear to youth that without a diploma their 
options are limited, and it helps them to make the transition into a 
good job after graduation. All programs reflect an awareness that 
different incentives are needed to encourage young people to return 
to school and to motivate students to complete school. 



KEY REFERENCES CITED: 

Barro, S.M. "The Incidence of Dropping Out: A Descriptive 
Analysis," SMB Economic Research, Washington, D.C., 1984. 

Berlin, G. "Towards a System of Youth Development: Replacing Work, 
Service and Learning Deficits with Opportunities," statement 
before Congressional Hearing, Subcommittee on Employment 
Opportunities, Committee on Education and Labor, Washington, 
D.C., March 1984. 

Betsey, R.G., Hollister, R.G., Jr. and Papageorgiou, M.R. (eds.) 
Youth Employment and Training Programs, the YEDPA Years , 
National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1985. 

Catterall, J. and Stern, D. "The Effects of Alternative School 
Programs on High School Completion and Labor Market Outcomes," 
Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis , 8:77-86, 1986. 

Ekstom, R. and others, "Who Drops Out of High School and Why? 
Findings from a National Study," Teachers College Record , 1987. 



- 66 - 



Kolstad, A.J. and Owings, J. A. "High School Dropouts Who Change 
Their Minds About School." Office of Educational Research and 
Improvement, U.S. Department of Education, Washington, D.C., 
1986. 

Peng, S. "High School Dropouts: A National Concern," paper 
prepared for the Business Advisory Commission of the Education 
Commission of the States, National Center for Education 
Statistics, U.S. Department of Education, Washington, D.C., 
1985. 



- 67 



(14) Sheppard Ranbom, "School Dropouts- -Everybody's Problem," final 
report of a conference hosted by the Institute for Educational 
Leadership, Inc., Washington, D.C., 1986. 



EDITORS' NOTE: This report was the product of a conference intended 
to brief congressional staff on what we know about dropping out: 
Mho drops out, what programs are working and why, and what 
policymakers need to think about in considering the problem. A 
number of model programs are described. 



KEY WORDS: Alternative programs School -rel ated factors 



KEY POINTS: 

Youth drop out of high school for a variety of reasons which have 
changed very little over the past 20 years. To at-risk students, 
school is often a hostile environment where they feel alienated and 
bored, and where they perceive themselves as chronic failures. By 
far, the most common reason for leaving high school is poor academic 
performance. Poor performance is often accompanied by expressed 
reasons for leaving such as, "I dislike school," or "school was not 
for me." 

Bud Hodgkinson argues that schools have an "underlying agenda 
stressing silence, order, control, and competition," or modes of 
behavior that are often anathema to at-risk students. Thus, 
rebellion against that agenda, marked by frequent expulsion, 
suspension, truancy, and in-school delinquency, is one major reason 
why students, particularly males, drop out. 

Large schools and classes lead students to feel anonymous, 
unimportant, and disassociated with the activities and goals of 
school. In large schools, teachers do not know students by name and 
can offer little individualized instruction to remediate learning 
problems. Moreover, there is little opportunity for students to 
take leadership responsibilities and participate significantly in 
extracurricular activities. Small schools of 300 to 400 students 
with a low student-adult ratio have fewer disorders, higher 
achievement levels, higher rates of student participation, and 
stronger feelings of satisfaction with school life. Their ability 
to "engage" students often can be replicated in larger schools 
through special programs and counseling. 

The ways schools track students has a profound effect on student 
motivation and achievement. It is not uncommon for students tracked 
in the most advanced learning group to progress five times faster 

- 68 - 



than students in the least advanced groups. Students placed in 
slower groups not only advance more slowly, but develop problems of 
lower self-esteem, misconduct, and higher delinquency and dropout 
rates. By contrast, when students are placed in groups of mixed 
ability and achievement they seem to be exposed to more effective 
instructional practices, and they like their experiences more than 
students in lower tracks. 

Increasingly, schools are reversing efforts of the late 1960s and 
early 1970s that broadened course offerings to meet the needs of 
individual students. Instead, they are imposing new requirements 
for more courses in a core of academic subjects. But some observers 
say that the movement back to a standard core limits the type of 
individualized curriculum and instructional approach crucial to 
students with substantial deficits in aptitude and achievement who 
have a sense of academic failure. Clearly, higher standards without 
additional assistance pose serious risks to students who are not 
doing well with the standard curriculum and whose school experiences 
are negative from the start. 

The criticisms and fears about the impact of the school reform 
efforts have focused attention on what works and does not work with 
school dropouts. Some observers are concerned that the movement to 
adopt a stronger academic core curriculum overemphasizes academic 
abilities and talents to the exclusion of others. They also are 
worried that a return to the "new basics" will subject students who 
are chronic failures to demands that afford them little chance of 
success. Similarly, some educators expressed concern that statewide 
requirements that limit participation in extracurricular activities 
to students with at least 'C averages in academic courses will 
encourage ineligible students to drop out because they have lost one 
of their few incentives to stay in school. 

We do know enough about why students drop out of school to help 
educators understand and deal with the connection between schooling 
and a student's decision to leave. The early signs include low test 
scores, particularly in reading; low grades; no feeling of 
competence in any subject; low attendance; and retention in a grade. 
The single best predictor of a potential dropout is that a student 
is held back before the eighth grade. Warning signs in high school 
include low grades, failed courses and low attendance. Other good 
predictors of potential dropouts are low academic self-concept, 
little sense of control over the academic environment, lack of 
"connectedness" with the school through extracurricular activities 
or a personal identification with a teacher or other adult, and lack 
of belief that the effort to graduate will be beneficial. 

Educators at the conference said, "Like it or not, if the dropout 
problem is ever to be solved, schools must take a leadership role." 
Less than one percent of the youth in need of assistance is 
currently in programs such as those described below. Schools are 



69 - 



the only option. Schools have great resources at their disposal, 
are the institution that deals with the life span of youth, and 
exist in every community. 

Among school -based initiatives that help reduce the dropout problem 
are: 

o Developmental early childhood education programs to give 
children from disadvantaged backgrounds a positive orientation 
to school, and skills training prior to beginning school. 

o Efforts to reduce school structures and teacher workloads to 
give teachers opportunities for closer and effective contact 
with students and their parents. 

o Competency-based promotion to identify verifiable skills, 
mastered at an individual pace with positive reinforcement from 
teachers, that can help offset negative school attitudes common 
among slow learners. 

o Summer programs to ensure that disadvantaged students or slow 
learners do not lose educational gains made during the school 
year, and to give them supervised work experience. 

o Alternative high school programs such as the "school within a 
school," to provide students with options. 

o Intensive, individualized training in the basic skills combined 
with more relevant, concrete projects to provide a relationship 
to the world of work. 

o Experiential education to link students to the broader 
community outside of schools, ranging from tutoring young 
students to working on construction crews aimed at revitalizing 
urban housing, and to give students a greater sense of purpose, 
reorient them to the broader world outside of school, and 
establish a motivation to work and learn. 

o Bilingual education to provide sufficient numbers of well- 
trained bilingual teachers who can work with the most at-risk 
pupils--speakers of English as a second language. 

o Collaboration to bring government, higher education, business 
and industry, social service agencies, civic groups, and 
parents together to develop and expand programs for youth at 
risk of dropping out. 

Among the most successful methods of dealing with at-risk students 
are alternative education programs that place students in different 
environments, sometimes within their regular schools. 



70 - 



The Washington-Dix Street Academy in Washington, D.C. is a model 
alternative program for dropouts and underachievers. Established in 
1972 by the Washington Urban League, as part of a national project, 
it was phased completely into the D.C. public school system in 1975. 
The program is patterned after the "street academies" which sprang 
up in New York City in the 1960s. These were small, informal 
schools for dropouts and alienated youth established in church 
basements and storefronts near busy streets. They were partially 
staffed by young "street workers" from the community, who recruited, 
counseled, and tutored students. Because of budget cuts, the D.C. 
schools' program exists now without the aid of "street workers." 
Enrollment is voluntary. The program, which graduates about 35 
students per year, provides individualized instruction in small 
classes where teachers have a close relationship with students. The 
Academy also gives students the opportunity to gain credit through 
community service in hospitals, day care centers, recreation 
centers, and government agencies. About two-thirds of the students 
in the program are young women, nearly half of whom are mothers. 

The Summer Training and Education Program, a three-year 
demonstration project, launched by The Corporation for Public- 
Private Ventures of Philadelphia with support from the Ford 
Foundation. It gives 1,500 14-year olds who failed a grade or read 
below grade level a chance to catch up with academic work during the 
summer months while earning money in a summer job and learning about 
family planning. The project is targeted at young teens as they are 
about to make the difficult transition from junior to senior high 
school. The program is designed to improve literacy in reading and 
mathematics, increase high school completion rates, and reduce 
teenage pregnancy. The project has four key components: 
remediation through self-paced, competency-based instruction; a 
life-planning program, with information on sex education and 
pregnancy and their effect on employment; summer jobs in 
maintenance, clerical, food service and recreational work; and in- 
school follow-up to monitor students and the success of the program 
in meeting its goals. 

A Youth Tutoring Project in San Antonio, Texas provides Hispanic 
students who need money to assist their families with eight hours of 
employment a week. Their job--to help third graders with their 
school work. The program has led to a reduction in absenteeism, 
improved scores on basic skills tests, and improved self-concept of 
students involved. 

The Postsecondary Planning Program in Dade County, Florida is a 
curriculum and counseling program that familiarizes students with 
careers. It uses computer labs and in-class activities, including 
mock employment situations and career exploration study projects, to 
give students motivation for learning. It begins in elementary 
school. Before the program was introduced in 1980, the dropout rate 
in Dade County averaged 20.4 percent. After the first year of 



- 71 



operation, the dropout rate declined to 17.6 percent and in 1982-83 
the rate was 15 percent. According to program personnel, not only 
have dropout rates declined, but job placement rates have increased 
significantly. 

Atlanta's Adopt-A-Student Program uses volunteers from the city's 
Merit Employment Association, a group of 40 local businesses, to 
provide students in the lowest quartile of their high school class 
with a role model on a one-to-one basis. The program includes 
seminars and workshops to aid high school students in developing and 
improving their job awareness, job preparation, and job aspirations, 
as well as life-coping skills. 

Los Angeles Unified School District Dropout Recovery Prevention 
Program, funded at $1 million, is now being piloted in 21 schools 
(divided evenly between high schools, junior high schools, and 
elementary schools). It provides additional staff members to work 
exclusively on identifying potential dropouts and providing them 
with counseling, tutoring, and psychological help where appropriate. 
The staff also tries to locate students who already have dropped out 
and to encourage them to return. 

The Cities in Schools Project's primary characteristic is its basis 
in a local coalition of leadership involving the mayor's office, 
school system, business community and public and private social 
service agencies. This model promotes the increased effectiveness 
of service personnel and educators for at-risk students and families 
by placing public and private support services, including 
counseling, health, recreation, financial, legal and employment aid, 
in the schools. The program was first initiated in Atlanta and 
Indianapolis in 1974, but has been replicated in Houston, New York 
City, Bethlehem (PA.), Los Angeles, the District of Columbia, and 
West Palm Beach. 

Project Redirection aims at helping a group burdened by multiple 
disadvantages: pregnant teenagers and teenage mothers with poverty- 
level family incomes, almost half of whom are school dropouts. 
Begun in 1980 in five sites and recently expanded to seven more, the 
program guides each participant according to an individualized 
service plan and provides comprehensive services such as educational 
placement in summer youth employment programs, and job search 
assistance. Beyond that, programs offer maternal and child health 
care; family planning; parenting skills; general life skills, such 
as balancing checkbooks and using want ads; help in child-care 
arrangements; peer group sessions; and counseling. Adult women from 
the community are volunteers who serve as role models and 
counselors. 

No single approach will work for all disadvantaged youth. Because 
they are dealing with multiple problems at the same time, programs 
must be carefully designed and targeted. For example, moving 
seriously at-risk 17- to 20-year old school dropouts immediately 

- 72 - 



into a relatively short-term supported work program did not improve 
post-program behavior. Adding remediation skills training to the 
work experience increased the effectiveness of the program. 
Further, individualizing the assessment and skill training focused 
on particular needs. Programs for pregnant teens and teenage 
mothers also need to have access to a wide range of services, 
including educational counseling and referral, employability 
training and job counseling, birth control education, referral to 
health services, instruction in parenting, personal counseling, life 
management education, recreational activities, and child care for 
those returning to school. 

Meaningful work experience can complement schooling for 
disadvantaged youth. But, participants have to receive adequate 
basic education and employers have to establish school standards for 
youth to meet. Demonstrations conducted indicate that many issues 
need to be resolved in this area, including defining and enforcing 
school attendance and performance standards. Furthermore, schools 
were ineffective in recruiting students who had dropped out and did 
little to create curricula which met the needs of out of school 
youth. Programs which provided academic credit for work experience 
did little to enhance students' basic skills and appeared to be of 
questionable value. 



- 73 - 



(15) Jacob Kaufman and Morgan V. Lewis, The School Environment and 
Programs for Dropouts . The Pennsylvania State University, Union 
Park, Pa.: August 1968. 



EDITORS' NOTE: This 1968 study evaluated two experimental programs 
designed to get dropouts a "second chance": One designed to lead to 
a diploma, the other occupational skill training. The evaluation 
found the diploma program more effective by every criterion. Most 
significant was the positive attitude teachers in the successful 
program maintained toward their students. 



KEY WORDS: Alternative programs Learning styles 

Role of principals and teachers Vocational education 



KEY POINTS: 

This is a report of two experimental programs that were conducted 
for young high school dropouts. One program offered courses leading 
to a high school diploma; the other offered skill training in one of 
three occupational areas. There were major differences in the 
relative success of the two programs as measured by retention rates, 
tests, questionnaires, and interviews. By all of these measures the 
diploma program was more successful. 

During the development of the high school diploma program, efforts 
were made to structure each instructional situation to create 
opportunities for the development of positive interactions. There 
were many links in the chain of interaction. These included: the 
project staff's relationships with the teachers; the teachers' 
relationships with each other; the teachers' relationships with the 
students; and, finally, the students' relationships with each other. 
Considering what is know concerning school rejection by the 
culturally deprived, it seems safe to assume that any failure in 
this vital chain of relationships could have resulted in the 
creation of conditions conducive to school rejection. Similar 
efforts were made in the skill training program, but because of the 
administrator these were not successful. 

Teachers who worked effectively with the students cared about them 
as individuals; they had insight into the personal characteristics 
and motivations of the students and were aware of the difficulties 
many of them were trying to overcome. This awareness caused the 
successful teachers to put extra effort into attempting to 
communicate with the students. The students responded to this 



74 



obvious involvement on the part of the teachers. Instead of 
avoiding the learning situation--a response that they had learned in 
previous school settings--they responded to the teacher and found 
they could, indeed, learn. 

In general the unsuccessful teachers were not able to accept the 
students as individuals, responding to the stereotype of the dropout 
rather than to the separate students they taught. They ascribed the 
dropouts' difficulties to character defects which could be overcome 
by personal diligence. Since these teachers believed the problem 
lay with the nature of the student, it was the students' 
responsibility to make any adjustments necessary for them to benefit 
from the program. But basically these teachers had little faith in 
the ability of the dropouts to make such adjustments. They believed 
that the dropouts' limited natural ability and lack of initiative 
prevented them from doing so. 

These basically negative attitudes toward the students reduced the 
effectiveness of the teachers who held them. Such teachers 
complained of obtaining little response from the students; the 
successful teachers, on the other hand, remarked about the 
enthusiasm of their students. The poorer teachers were skeptical of 
the worth of the program; the good teachers saw it as "last chance" 
for students that the regular school had failed to serve. The 
poorer teachers taught these students in much the same way they 
taught their regular classes and learned little from their 
participation in the program. The better teachers, however, 
constantly attempted to find new ways to reach the students and 
found that their regular teaching was being affected. 

A weighing of all the available data points to the difference in the 
attitudinal tone or "atmosphere" of the two programs as one of the 
major reasons for the difference in their relative success. This 
difference in tone appeared to stem largely from the different 
attitudes of their administrators towards the value of the programs. 
The school administrator is the bridge between society and the 
classroom. His attitudes toward culturally disadvantaged students 
and his interpretation of his responsibilities to them, as 
communicated by him both to the community and to his teachers, may 
significantly influence how his teachers teach. 

During the development of the diploma program, many meetings with 
teachers were devoted to exploration of various aspects of the 
organization of the traditional high school. The values that 
underlie these traditional procedures and practices were reexamined. 
Teachers developed the understanding that the administration had 
different expectations concerning conduct of the educational 
program, evaluation of student progress, student conduct, 
attendance, etc., than usually are encountered. Teachers freely 
reacted to each other's ideas and influenced them. The cumulative 
effect of the staff discussions that were held was to liberate 
teachers from the feelings of guilt, inadequacy, and failure that 

- 75 - 



might have developed had they incorrectly judged administrative 
expectations and tried to approach their classes with their habitual 
attitudes and expectations. They were freed from the fear of 
disapproval that they might have experienced when they contemplated 
doing something new or different. In this way, a climate of 
acceptance was firmly established before teachers and students even 
met. 

The situation was completely reversed in the skill training program. 
Soon after the program was in operation it became apparent that the 
administrator was not in sympathy with its aims. He held basically 
negative attitudes toward the students and, when interviewing 
prospective teachers, it was occasionally reported that he made 
these views known. The "self-defeating behavior" was amply 
stimulated by the teachers' attitudes, the lack of equipment and 
supplies, and the repetitious nature of the instruction. Students 
found once again that what society promised and what it delivered 
were much at variance. The expectations of frustration and 
rejection, that initially the students were motivated enough to 
overcome, were only too well confirmed. Instead of the program 
providing the support necessary for continuation, it supplied the 
conditions that brought forth the students' more accustomed behavior 
of failure and withdrawal. 

Most of the ineffective teachers came from socio-economic 
backgrounds where there was strong emphasis on upward occupational 
mobility. Families with this orientation stress the importance of 
hard work, conscientiousness, fulfilling responsibilities, 
postponing immediate gratification, planning for the future, etc. 
People who have internalized these values find the behavior of those 
from different backgrounds very irritating. The symptoms of 
poverty- -unemployment, welfare, illegitimacy—are seen as a desire 
"to get something for nothing," as laziness, as self-indulgence. 
Poor people have a life style which the upwardly mobile has been 
taught to fear worse than death itself. To the upwardly mobile, the 
fact that poor people live this way means that they must want to. 
If they did not want to, they would get a job, any job, and live a 
"decent" life. 




tney were going to acnieve one or tne major goais set tot 
adolescents in our society. The possession of this certificate 
means that they no longer would be classified as outcasts and 
failures. The students, of course, also hoped it would open doors 

■*-/-> nmnlni/mnnt +■ li -> +■ kiH nvnwiniirl w knnn rlnfoH Rowrvn/H itc nyartiral 



76 - 



The learning experience does not begin with a book, an unnatural 
place for the disadvantaged student to begin. Rather, the learning 
experience begins with a question or problem that may develop from 
experiences gained outside school or from a discussion, 
demonstration, or other school originated experience. The question 
or problems may be explored in a number of ways, with some form of 
experimentation at or near the top of the list of preferred types of 
exploration. Books and reading become part of this process when 
printed reference materials become the only practical way to answer 
a question or solve a problem. Indeed, it must be remembered that 
the nonverbal student, whether deprived or not, probably never will 
read for pleasure. Certainly, culturally disadvantaged individuals 
have not had experiences at home to cause them to value books and 
reading. For the disadvantaged student both natural and 
environmental factors, therefore, operate to make the suggestion of 
reading for pleasure a feminine, indeed oldmaidish, cliche. 

The culturally deprived student--with his rejection of formality, 
his needs for peer interaction and acceptance, perhaps his limited 
or underdeveloped interest patterns, his lack of self-confidence, 
and his lost curiosity--is in particular need of opportunities to 
group and regroup as the situation requires. He may react quite 
negatively to some teacher or some groups of his peers and must have 
a way to move out of these situations. He may need to spend most of 
his time with one particular person with whom he can identify and to 
whom he can relate. He may need to spend time alone or with a 
friend or two working with a particular piece of equipment, 
discussing an urgent or fascinating problem. Flexibility in 
grouping and in the use of time can permit opportunities for the 
culturally disadvantaged student to explore, to regain his lost 
curiosity, and to overcome his apathy. 

Teachers who possess the basic personality characteristics that 
predispose them to sympathetic and humanitarian attitudes toward 
others, who have gained insights into the handicap of poverty, who 
have found a way to identify with the culturally disadvantaged, who 
have mastered essential teaching skills, and who also have creative 
leadership, flexible school organization, and an individual 
curriculum, should be able to develop positive relationships with 
culturally disadvantaged students and, through these relationships, 
contribute their share toward the relief of some of the problems of 
poverty. 






77 - 



KEY REFERENCES CITED: 

Ausubel , D.P. "Effects of Cultural Deprivation on Learning 
Patterns." In S.W. Webster (Ed.) The Disadvantaged Learner . 
San Francisco: Chandler, 1966. 

Cervantes, L.F. The Dropout: Causes and Cures . Ann Arbor: 
University of Michigan Press, 1965. 

Chansky, N.M. Untapped Good: The Rehabilitation of School Dropouts . 
Springfield, 111: Thomas, 1966. 

Greene, B.I. Preventing Student Dropouts . Englewood Cliffs, New 
Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1966. 



- 78 



(16) James M. Weber, "Strengthening Vocational Education's Role in 
Decreasing the Dropout Rate," The National Center for Research 
in Vocational Education, Ohio State University, Columbus, 1986. 



EDITORS' NOTE: This study examines the role of vocational education 
in reducing dropout rates. In particular, it found that programs 
that identify the dropout prone, provide them guidance and 
counseling services, and offer meaningful opportunities for career 
exploration and development seem to help reduce the number of 
dropouts. Some of the recommendations the author offers are 
providing career exploration before high school, and tying 
work/study to specific educational plans. 



KEY WORDS: Timely identification Vocational education 

Counsel ing 



KEY POINTS: 

Even the best of programs cannot be successful without the timely 
identification of potential dropouts. Prior to their entry into 
high school and subsequent involvement in the vocational program, a 
more extensive, systematic effort needs to be undertaken to identify 
potential dropouts. Such an effort should resemble that used to 
identify learning-disabled, disadvantaged, and other special needs 
students. Previous research shows that dropout-prone students need 
to be identified early enough in their school careers so that some 
form of positive action can be initiated before it is too late. 

It is essential that--in addition to a more systematic 
identification of potential dropouts prior to high school entry-- 
there be more extensive guidance and counseling services available 
to them prior to their entry into high school, at the transition 
point into high school, and during their high school careers. 
Normally, the needs of potential dropouts in this regard are 
multidimensional and extensive in scope. A variety of approaches 
and specific activities can be used to help deliver such services. 
These approaches can include monitoring by teachers; hiring more 
counselors, particularly vocational counselors, so as to decrease 
the student-counselor ratio; providing parent/family workshops; 
offering health screening programs; and fostering school-to-school 
linkages through orientation programs, joint school activities, and 
transitional guidance services. It appears that the actual delivery 
of these services to potential dropouts is the critical factor at 
this point, more so than the specific nature of these services. 



79 



The guidance needs of most dropouts, particularly in planning their 
high school programs, are not adequately addressed either at school 
or at home. For example, significantly fewer lOth-grade dropouts 
than completers reported discussing their high school plans with 
their parents or "significant others" in their lives. Also, as a 
general rule, few dropouts and dropout-prone students reported 
talking either to a counselor or their teachers about their high 
school plans. This inadequacy is also reflected in the fact that 
few dropouts and dropout-prone students reported that they "chose" 
their high school programs rather than its being simply "assigned" 
to them. 

As a general rule, there are very poor assessments of students' 
strengths and weaknesses. When such data are available, counselors 
either cannot or will not follow up and place students in areas 
where success and self-esteem can be cultivated. Such assessments 
point up the need for individualized counseling services designed to 
serve both dropout-prone youth as well as actual school leavers. 

It is also essential that the guidance and counseling services for 
dropouts and dropout-prone students assign a heightened role to 
vocational education as a program alternative. Vocational education 
should be a more prominent part of the comprehensive set of course 
offerings from which students make educated choices, not a dumping 
ground for dropouts and dropout-prone students. Retentive effects 
associated with participation in vocational education can never be 
realized if dropout-prone students do not participate in those 
programs. 

Research results suggest that once dropouts are in high school, they 
tend not to enter the mainstream of vocational programs offered in 
their respective schools. The involvement of dropouts in those 
programs appears to be concentrated in "exploratory" courses, 
especially consumer/homemaker and industrial arts courses. These 
students take relatively few, if any, "occupational" courses, which 
provide specific job training and other kinds of benefits. 
Furthermore, they do not appear to explore the full range of 
vocational offerings, nor do they develop a vocational specialty. 
Because too few dropouts appear to follow the "normal" transitional 
paths through their schools' vocational programs, or take advantage 
of the job training aspects of those programs, mechanisms for 
assisting them in these regards need to be implemented. Following 
are examples of mechanisms that might be used. 

o Offer occupational courses earlier in the students' high school 
careers and do not require a variety of "exploratory" 
prerequisites to those courses. 

o Offer a special series of occupational courses or even 
minicourses after school, on weekends, or during school hours 
via flexible course scheduling, so as to afford opportunities 
for students to acquire job-specific skills. 

- 80 - 



o Offer the exploratory courses as well as any required remedial 
courses at an earlier time (e.g., 8th grade) or as special 
courses (i.e., after school, summer, and so forth) in order to 
ensure that time during the high school day is devoted to 
taking occupational courses. For example, encourage community 
business and industry to work with students to give experiences 
and course credit on students' own time. 

o Implement more extensive planning systems that involve more 
decision points where counselors and teachers may discuss, 
modify, and adapt the students' basic program plans. In so 
doing, the advisability of students' taking more "exploratory" 
versus "occupational" courses could be monitored and evaluated. 

The results also suggest that one aspect of high school vocational 
programs needing review is the issue of work-study. It appears that 
dropouts often participate in work-study activities early in their 
high school careers and to a much greater degree than that of the 
general student population. Frequently, work-study activities have 
minimal programmatic association with other, ongoing school efforts. 
Although important because of the economic benefits they provide the 
recipients, these activities may directly or indirectly serwe as 
inducements for quitting school. Some activities are not related 
directly to the ongoing school program, such as those that are part 
of a larger dropout prevention program, (e.g., an extended school 
day or alternative high school program or an experience-based career 
education program). Such activities may not positively contribute 
to retention and possibly should be deemphasized. Research results 
also suggest that school -JTPA linkages that involve work-study 
activities for disadvantaged youth should be reviewed and evaluated 
on an individual basis. 

Successful dropout prevention programs possess the following 
characteristics: 

Programs are holistic and multifaceted in their approach. The 
most prevalent strategies used were a combination of parental 
involvement, remedial basic skills instruction, and work 
experience/job placement with counseling, supportive services, 
and in-school vocational instruction all coming in as close 
seconds and used in the majority of cases. 

Programs are typically operational ized in such a manner that 
about half of the total effort is directed toward addressing 
and resolving students' education/remediation needs (e.g., 
basic skills deficiencies), about a quarter of the effort is 
spent on resolving their personal needs, and the remaining 
quarter is targeted toward their work-related needs. 



81 - 



Programs are usually presented in contexts that differ from the 
"traditional school environment" (even though they may be 
housed in the same physical plant, for example, a "school- 
wi thin-a-school " context); involve special motivational 
strategies such as tying school activities directly to the real 
world (workplace, daily living, parenting needs, and so forth), 
building more individualized teacher-student linkages, 
mentoring, giving special awards, and designing activities to 
build esprit de corps among affected students; and involve some 
degree of individualized teaching/learning activities. 

Programs are focused upon dropout-prone students who are in the 
beginning stages of their high school careers (between the ages 
of 14 and 16), prior to the time when they would "normally" 
become formally involved in a vocational education program. 

If a work experience component is involved, that component is 
intimately tied to the other program components, both logically 
and operationally, and usually results in the establishment of 
what are frequently unique and closer relationships with 
business/industry than normally occur in more general, work- 
study programs. 

The programs require the involvement of special staff/teachers 
who are committed to the philosophy and goals of the program; 
are able and willing to establish workable relationships with 
their students — relationships that are somewhat different and 
frequently require more commitment than that which is normally 
required; are flexible in their approach, both to instruction 
and to dealing with their students; and maintain a continuing 
awareness of their students' needs. 

Dropout prevention programs should have a committed staff, use a 
variety of integrated strategies, be individualized in a 
nontraditional environment, share a strong vocational job-related 
emphasis, and have a strong counseling component. Dropout 
prevention programs should have an early warning and follow- through 
system in order to identify potential dropouts as well as develop 
ways of ensuring that those students stay in school. Because of 
their cost, program resources should be expended on students who 
would become actual dropouts if no intervention were to occur. 
Efforts must be strengthened to identify dropouts early in their 
school careers. Emphasis needs to be placed on the development and 
utilization of localized, multidimensional, student-centered 
decision rules that are reliable dropout indicators. 

Parents should become better informed about vocational and other 
curricular offerings available to their children. Presentations 
featuring employers and vocational graduates from the local area 
might be beneficial. Parents should also be shown how to provide 
planning and support to their children in choosing their school 
programs. Extensive career exploration and related career education 

- 82 - 



experiences should be provided for dropout-prone students, 
particularly prior to and at the transition point into high school, 
in order to enhance their awareness of the full range of vocational 
alternatives. 

Potential dropouts need to participate in vocational programs in a 
meaningful way if vocational education is to have a positive impact 
upon the dropout rate. The existing rules governing entry into 
vocational education should be carefully reviewed and evaluated on 
an individual student basis, particularly for students deemed to be 
dropout-prone. This review needs to be undertaken in order to 
ensure that students are not being kept out of vocational education 
programs while being allowed to participate in work-study programs 
that have few, if any, logical or operational ties with students' 
overall school plans or goals. Work-study experiences should be 
carefully reviewed and evaluated. Such experiences, when not 
logically or operationally tied to a student's overall education 
program, are not a panacea for resolving that student's school 
problems. 



KEY REFERENCES CITED: 

Appelbaum, M.J., and Dent, C. North Carolina Public High School 
Dropout-Out Study . Chapel Hill, NC: T.T. Thurstone 
Psychometric Laboratory, 1983. 

Ekstrom, R., Goerty, M., Pollack, J., and Rock, D. "Who Drops Out 
of High School and Why? Findings from a National Study." 
Teachers College Record . Vol. 67, no. 3, 1986. 

Elliott, D.L., Voss, H.L., and Wendling, A. "Capable Dropouts and 
the Social Milieu of High School." The Journal of Educational 
Research 4 . no. 60, 1966. 

Fine, M. and Rosenberg, P. "Dropping Out of High School: The 
Ideology of School and Work." Journal of Education 165, no. 3, 
Summer 1983. 

Mann, D. "Action on Dropouts" Educational Leadership . September 
1985. 

Morrow, G. "Standardizing Practice in the Analysis of School 
Dropouts." Teachers College Record . Vol. 67, no. 3, 1986. 

Sewell, T.E., Palmo, A.J., and Manni, J.S. "High School Dropout: 
Psychological, Academic, and Vocational Factors." Urban 
Education . Vol. 16, pp. 65-76, 1981. 

Wehlage, G.G., and Rutter, R.A. Dropping Out: How Much Do Schools 
Contribute to the Problem? Madison, WI: Wisconsin Center for 
Education Research, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1984. 

- 83 - 



INDEX OF KEY WORDS 

Selection Numbers 

Absences from school (5), (6), (8), (11) 

Alternative programs (8), (10), (11), (12), 

(13), (14), (15) 

Comprehensive approach (1), (3), (4), (10), 

(11), (12), (13) 

Counseling (9), (11), (16) 

Definition of dropouts (2) 

Differences across groups (1), (3), (4), (6), 

(7), (8), (9) 

Dropout decision process (5), (6) 

Female dropouts (3) 

Learning styles (3), (15) 

Migrant students (4) 

Multicultural needs (7) 

Opportunities for success (6) 

Participation in extracurricular activity (5) 

Pregnancy (3) 

Role of principals and teachers (12), (15) 

School -related factors (1), (5), (6), (14) 

Timely identification (1), (4), (12), (16) 

Vocational education (11)» (15), (16) 



84 - 



STUDY OF SCHOOL DROPOUT FACTORS 

IN THE SECONDARY SCHOOLS 

OF NORTH CAROLINA 



VOLUME 2 

A COMPARISON OF EIGHT 
HIGH AND LOW DROPOUT SCHOOLS 

July 14, 1988 



PREPARED FOR 

JOINT LEGISLATIVE COMMISSION ON GOVERNMENTAL OPERATIONS 
OF THE NORTH CAROLINA GENERAL ASSEMBLY 




PREPARED BY 



Research and Evaluation Associates, Inc. 



1030 15th Street, N.W., Suite 750 

Washington, D.C. 20005 

(202) 842-2200 



100 Europa Drive, Suite 590 

Chapel Hill, N.C. 27514 

(919) 968-4961 



TABLE OF CONTENTS 



PREFACE i 

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY ii 

1. STUCK DESIGN 1 

2. THE VIEW FROM CENTRAL OFFICE 10 

3. DISTRICT DROPOUT PREVENTION PLANS 17 

4. THE PERSPECTIVE OF THE SCHOOL PKLNICIPAL 21 

5. THE COUNSELING COMPONENT 26 

6. INTERVIEWS WITH DEPARTMENT HEADS 31 

7. IN-SCHOOL SUSPENSION PROGRAMS 36 

8. ALTERNATTVE PROGRAMS 42 

9. SURVEY OF STUDENTS 49 

10. SURVEY OF RECENT DROPOUTS 55 

11. OBERSERVATTONS AND CONCLUSIONS 61 



T.TfT T OF TABLES 

Table 1. CHARACTERISTICS OF PAIRED SCHOOIS 4 

Table 2. SOURCES OF INFORMATION 9 

Table 3. HIGHLIGHTS FROM CENTRAL OFFICE INTERVIEWS 16 

Table 4. HIGHLIGHTS FROM DISTRICT DROPOUT PREVENTION PLANS ... 20 

Table 5. HIGHLIGHTS FROM INTERVIEWS WITH SCHOOL PRINCIPALS ... 25 

Table 6. HIGHLIGHTS FROM INTERVIEWS WITH COUNSELORS 30 

Table 7. HIGHLIGHTS FROM INTERVIEWS DEPARTMENT HEADS 35 

Table 8. HIGHLIGHTS FROM IN-SCHOOL SUSPENSION PROGRAMS 41 

Table 9. HIGHLIGHTS FROM ALTERNATIVE PROGRAMS 48 

Table 10. HIGHLIGHTS FROM SURVEY OF STUDENTS 54 

Table 11. HIGHLIGHTS FROM SURVEY OF RECENT DROPOUTS 60 



PREFACE 



This report constitutes the second of three volumes prepared 
as a part of the Study of School Dropout Factors in the Secondary 
Schools of North Carolina. The first volume is an edited 
collection of articles and papers dealing with the multiple 
factors affecting school dropout decisions, as perceived by a 
range of experts and scholars. The third volume reviews current 
policies and practices in the state and suggests revisions and 
extensions of these policies and practices that might result in 
reductions in dropout rates statewide. The purpose of this second 
volume is to contrast four high schools, which are among those 
with the highest dropout rates in the state, with four high 
schools which, while matching in student demographics and school 
characteristics, are among those schools with the lowest dropout 
rates in the state. 

School-level data were used to rank schools by dropout rate 
and to select four matching pairs of high and low dropout rate 
schools. Two-person teams visited each of the eight schools, 
interviewing district and building level administrators, 
department and program heads. In addition, selected students were 
interviewed in informal focus groups and surveyed via a two-page 
questionnaire. The interview teams also collected supporting 
materials including written descriptions of the local commun ity, 
figures on dropouts for the last five years, district dropout 
prevention plans, and test data, grade transcripts, and referral 
forms for 20 recent dropouts. The referral forms were used to 
contact dropouts and their parents in telephone follow-up 
interviews. Together, these elements permitted meaningful 
comparisons across schools and a comprehensive analysis of school- 
based factors which are associated with high and low dropout 
rates. 

The project team wishes to thank Patricia M. Santos for her 
assistance in two of the site visits and Trinia Holman-Beasley and 
Betty J. Johnson for their roles in the follow-up telephone 
survey. 

Barry M. Kibel, Ph.D., Project Director 
Gary D. Gaddy, Ph.D. 
Joseph L. Thomas 
Cynthia D. Williams 



EXECUTIVE SUMMARY 

Site visits were made to eight high schools in North 
Carolina, selected in pairs to include one school with an 
extremely high dropout rate and a matched school with an extremely 
low dropout rate. During the visits, interviews were conducted 
with district and building level administrators, program heads, 
teachers and other staff, and with groups of students. A survey 
of eleventh graders was performed and follow-up phone interviews 
were conducted with recent dropouts from these schools and with 
their parents. 

All eight sets of school district administrators were 
articulate and generally aware of the issues pertaining to dropout 
causes and the required interventions. Districts with the low 
dropout schools were quick to identify at least one program of 
which they were particularly proud, but also quick to point to a 
complement of additional strong programs which were collectively 
contributing to dropout prevention. Districts with the high 
dropout schools tended to have a good explanation for why the rate 
was so high and felt that efforts underway to reduce the rate 
would, in time, prove effective. 

All administrators saw counseling as the backbone of any 
successful dropout prevention effort. The earlier that students 
with academic or other problems could be identified, counseled 
effectively and offered appropriate remediation, the greater was 
the chance that these students would remain in school, find 
sources for academic and social success, and graduate. 



n 



Most of the school districts felt that they were doing 
better now than in earlier years in combining forces with local 
social service agencies to help pregnant teens and young mothers 
to continue their education. Similarly, they felt that their job 
placement and work-study efforts were getting stronger. 
Vocational education programs were frequently mentioned as major 
factors in keeping groups of students in school through 
graduation, especially by districts with low dropout schools. 

While there were same differences among district dropout 
prevention plans in terms of depth of analysis and attention to 
evaluation measures to gauge progress, these were not reflected in 
either the comprehensiveness of programs at the schools nor in 
their successes in reducing dropout rates. It was apparent that 
the district dropout prevention plan was viewed more as a 
necessary burden to obtain state funding than as a vehicle for 
tackling the problem of school dropouts. The majority of building 
level administrators, counselors, and department heads interviewed 
admitted to having never seen the plan. 

Principals from all four of the high dropout schools 
complained that while dropout prevention was a priority of their 
school district, resources had not been forthcxming to their 
schools to tackle the problem in a concerted and vigorous way. In 
marked contrast, the principals from the low dropout schools 
focused on the progress that was being made and on the program 
elements which were being implemented and improved. They argued 
that the same quality and attention which went into their dropout 
programs could be seen in all their academic and other programs. 



111 



All principals and counselors interviewed expressed concern 
about the large number of students who had demanding jobs after 
school which conflicted with their ability to study. They felt 
that many students were working far too many hours and perhaps 
being exploited by employers. Student surveys and interviews with 
recent dropouts confirmed that many students were working long 
hours at the expense of study time and academic success. 

The almost universal observation of the counselors 
interviewed, as well as other administrators at the schools, was 
that the counselors have extremely heavy administrative workloads 
that can preclude meaningful and sustained interaction with at- 
risk students needing such attention. Counselors admitted to 
spending a disproportionate share of their time focusing on the 
needs of college bound students. The low dropout schools had 
found ways of providing clerical support to counselors, as well as 
employing an individual to work primarily with dropout prone 
students in a counseling capacity. 

At all schools, the common academic deficiency seen by 
department heads was reading ability and other basic language 
skills. Dropout prone students were struggling and often failing 
in every class that involved significant reading assignments. 
Social promotions were blamed for placing students in the high 
schools without the fundamental skills to function successfully 
there. There was unanimous consensus among the heads of the 
special education departments that ultimately it is the teachers 
that make the difference with many dropout-prone students. 



IV 



A very common comment on the in-schcol suspension programs 
was that these were worthwhile tools for discipline, but not 
cornerstones for dropout prevention programs. Many of the 
students assigned to in-schcol suspension were there for minor 
discipline infractions and in no danger of dropping out of school. 
The high dropout schools were less likely to offer counseling 
services to students sent to in-schcol suspension. 

The alternative options associated with the high dropout 
schools, extended day schools and JTPA programs, were generally 
not integrated with the regular school programs. The 
alternative programs at the low dropout schools, in contrast, 
tended to be more comprehensive in structure and more closely 
linked with the regular school. The most resourceful aspect of 
the programs at the low dropout schools was the networking of 
adults and services to insure that students got the help they 
needed. 

The most frequent reasons given by eleventh grade students 
surveyed to account for dropout decisions among their peers were 
wanting to work, pregnancy or marriage, and alcohol and drug use. 
Over half of the students surveyed worked outside of school. Of 
those working, 67% worked 20 hours or more and 8% worked 40 hours 
a week or more. Most students indicated they worked for spending 
money or to make a major purchase, such as a car. 

Parents of recent dropouts frequently said they were 
uninformed and caught by surprise when they found out how many 
days of school their children had missed. Many had no idea that 
their children had dropped out until long after the action 



occurred. At the high dropout schools, more dropouts left school 
when they turned sixteen; at the low dropout schools, more dropped 
out for academic reasons. Invariably, large numbers of absences 
preceded the dropout act, as the students disengaged from the 
school. 

For both high and low dropout rate schools, about half of 
the recent dropouts who worked admitted that their jobs had 
interfered with school and that this was one reason they left 
school. Half of the dropouts had been retained in either the 
ninth or tenth grade. Ihere was a high degree of agreement that 
leaving school had been a mistake, and many of the recent 
dropouts interviewed expressed a desire to return to school to 
graduate or to attend the local community college. 

The root solution to the problem of school dropout appears 
to lie in making each and every student feel attached in same 
tangible way to the school, to the extent that the student wants 
to move up through the grade levels, became a senior, and 
graduate. Success in implementing this root solution appears to 
require one-to-one interplay, over extended periods, between a 
student with problems and an adult with the counseling abilities 
and resources to convince the student to remain a part of the 
school community. What distinguished the districts and schools 
with the low rates was a recent record of successes in keeping 
dropout prone students in school, or getting recent dropouts to 
return to school, which in turn provided confidence to expand 
programs and services to sustain these accomplishments. 



VI 



The high dropout schools, in contrast, were somewhat 
frustrated by the numbers of recent dropouts and were att empt ing 
to explain the situation by factors external to the secondary 
school environment, such as work pressures and social promotions 
from the lower grades. The district and building level 
administrators were not generally aware of what other more 
successful districts and schools were doing that was different 
from what they were doing. The low dropout schools were clearly 
in an action mode; the high dropout schools were not. 



vn 



CHAPTER ONE 
STUDY DESIGN 

Site visits were made to eight high schools in North 
Carolina. The schools were selected in pairs to include one 
school with a high dropout rate and a matched school with a low 
dropout rate. Interviews were conducted with school district 
administrators, school building administrators, chairpersons from 
English, vocational education, and special education departments, 
counselors, and individuals working directly with at-risk students 
and recent dropouts. Opinion surveys of cross-sections of 
eleventh graders were administered, and small groups of students 
were interviewed. Materials collected included school board 
policies, facts about the community and school district, district 
dropout plans and other local reports, dropout statistics for the 
previous five years, and grade and test data on recent dropouts. 
Follow-up phone interviews were conducted with a sample of recent 
dropouts and their parents from each school. 

A short form was sent to each of the 140 school districts in 
the state, requesting information on all senior high schools in 
their district. The information requested included (a) the grade 
levels served; (b) the close-of-the-schcol-year membership and 
total number of withdrawals-as-dropouts during the school year 



(designated with a W2 withdrawal code) for the previous (1986-87) 

school year; (c) race-sex distribution of students in the current 

(1987-88) school year, as captured in the 10th day report for that 

school; and (d) participation in the free and reduced school lunch 

program for the previous month (February 1988) . 

The school dropout rate was approximated as: 

W2 RATE = Number of W2's reported 

Membership + W2's reported 

The W2 rate is clearly lower than the dropout rate, which includes 

a large number of non-returning students after the summer recess, 

but accurately reflects the ability of the school to retain 

students during the nine months of the school year. Inasmuch as 

the study focused on school-related factors associated with high 

and low dropout rates, the use of the W2 rate was appropriate. 

During the three weeks available for return of the short 

forms, 110 districts (79 percent) responded, providing information 

on 267 senior high schools. A data base was developed to store 

and process the information from each school. Schools were ranked 

by W2 rate from the highest value (15.8 percent) to the lowest 

value (0.4 percent) . An algorithm was developed to match schools 

at the high end of the list with schools at the low end. The 

match was made on the basis of grade levels served, number of 

students, ethnic mix, and percent of students participating in the 

free and reduced lunch programs (a surrogate for family size and 

income) . Four pairs of schools were then selected which had the 

largest disparity in ranking. 



For example, the 6th highest school (with a W2 rate of 11.5 
percent) was matched with the 261st ranked school (with a W2 rate 
of 1.4 percent) . Both schools were within small city school 
districts, served grades 10-12, had student bodies of between 750 
and 800, had student bodies which were between 40-45 percent 
Black, and had roughly a third of the students participating in 
the free and reduced school lunch program. 

The school districts and specific schools selected, as well 
as the individuals interviewed, were assured of anonymity as a 
condition for participating in the study. This condition was 
appropriate since the purpose of the study was not to assess 
specific schools or school districts, but rather to focus on 
factors within high and low dropout schools which might contribute 
to their dropout experiences. The promise of anonymity resulted 
in ready agreement from districts and schools to participate in 
the study and in free and open discussions with virtually every 
person contacted during the site visits. The attributes of the 
four pairs of schools selected are summarized as Table 1 on the 
next page. 

Seven of the eight districts with selected schools indicated 
their willingness to participate in the study. The eighth 
district felt that the study was being conducted too close to the 
end of the school year and district policy precluded the conduct 
of outside research during this period. A substitute school was 
identified and that district welcomed the opportunity to 
participate. 



Table 1: CHARACTERISTICS OF PAIRED SCHOOLS 



Pair 1 


Predominantly Black (about 90 percent) 
Predominantly low income 
Around 1000 students 
Grades 9-12 


Pair 2 


70-30 White-Black mix 
About one quarter low income 
Around 1200 students 
Grades 10-12 


Pair 3 


Predominantly White (90+ percent) 

Rural area 

Around 750 students 

Grades 9-12 


Pair 4 


60-40 White-Black mix 
Small city schools 
Around 800 students 
Grades 10-12 



In general, the districts were enthusiastic about the study 
and were pleased to be part of it. The schools with high dropout 
rates expressed concern and a desire to understand why they were 
not doing better. The schools with low dropout rates were proud 
of their success and anxious to share their experiences with 
others. 

School districts were provided in advance with lists of 
positions to be interviewed, with lists of additional materials 
required, and with sets of questions to be asked during interviews 
or included in student surveys. Appointments were made for two- 
day visits to each district, which occurred during the first two 
weeks of May 1988. The districts and individual schools assumed 
responsibility for scheduling interviews, compiling materials, and 
seeing to the administering of the student survey instrument. 

Two two-person teams were assigned to conduct the site 
visits. All team members were assigned site visits to both high 
and low dropout schools. 

The site visit typically began with an hour-long interview 
with the school district Superintendent. Questions were asked 
regarding school board policies and priorities, recent dropout 
experience in the district and at the selected senior high school, 
programs and initiatives underway to reduce the dropout rate, 
involvement of parents and community organizations, and resource 
needs to address the school dropout problem. The Assistant 
Superintendent for Instruction was usually interviewed next. 
Similar questions to those asked of the Superintendent were posed, 
with added focus on district instructional policy/ summer school 
programs, testing efforts, and transitions between school levels. 



A third interview at the district level was conducted with 
the individual designated as the district's Dropout Prevention 
Coordinator. This interview focused on the process of developing 
and inplementing the district dropout prevention plan, district- 
wide coordination of dropout prevention efforts, extent of the 
vocational educational program, and resources needed to address 
the dropout problem at the district level. Copies of the dropout 
prevention plans were obtained and subsequently reviewed and 
compared across districts. 

The remainder of the site visit occurred at the selected 
high school. Interviews with teachers were scheduled during their 
free periods. Principals were very cooperative in making 
arrangements, including providing quiet places to conduct the 
interviews, and often in encouraging their staff to speak openly 
and express their opinions and needs. 

Separate interviews were conducted with the principal and 
with each assistant principal. These interviews focused on the 
school's recent dropout experiences, the types of students who 
drop out and their reasons, identification of dropout-prone 
students and intervention measures taken with these students, 
academic deficiencies and behavior problems associated with recent 
and potential dropouts, in-schcol suspension and alternative 
programs, counseling resources, parental support, and resource 
needs to enhance dropout prevention efforts. 

Additional interviews were conducted with the heads of the 
counseling department, the English department, the vocational 
education department, and the special education department. These 
interviews focused on the specific attributes of each department, 



particularly as they related to relationships with potential 
dropouts, as well as dealing with same general topics such as 
recent school dropout experiences, profiles of typical dropouts, 
and resources needed to deal with the dropout situation at the 
school. 

The interview with the individual responsible for the in- 
schcol suspension program dealt with the components of the 
program, the behaviors leading to assignment to the program, the 
work performed by students while under suspension, attitudes of 
teachers toward the program, the extent of counseling services 
provided, the frequency of repeat assignments to in-schcol 
suspension, the perceived effectiveness of the program in 
modifying behaviors and in preventing school dropout decisions, 
and resource needs to strengthen the program. Persons responsible 
for alternative programs at the school, such as extended day, teen 
pregnancy, and job training programs, were also interviewed. 
These interviews reviewed program components, staffing and 
resources, student referral procedures and participation options 
within the program, relationship to other programs at the school 
and in the community, and perceived effectiveness of the program 
in keeping students in school until graduation. 

A survey instrument, with items on both sides of a single 
sheet of paper, was administered to eleventh grade students in one 
advanced, one regular, and one remedial English class at each 
school. Respondents were identified by age, sex, and race, as 
well as level of English being taken. The survey asked the 
students to register their degree of agreement or disagreement to 
a set of statements, to list the reasons why male and female 



students drop out of school, and to rate the importance of a list 
of reasons for dropping out. They were also asked what could be 
done to keep students in school and to indicate the extent to 
which they themselves worked during the school year. 

A list of twenty students who had dropped out of school 
during the past year was obtained, together with street address, 
telephone contact number, and name of a parent. Grade transcripts 
and test scores for these students were also provided, but with 
the names removed for purposes of confidentiality. Phone 
interviews with these former students and their parents were 
conducted during the first two weeks of June 1988. The interviews 
included questions on reasons for dropping out, problems while 
attending school, current vocation, plans for returning to school 
or to an alternative program, and suggestions on what might have 
been done to keep them in school. 

Table 2, on the next page, summarizes the sources of 
information used in the study to compare low and high dropout 
schools. 



Table 2: SOURCES OF INFORMATION 



DISTRICT LEVEL 

School district superintendent 

Assistant superintendent for instruction 

Dropout prevention coordinator 

Description of community/local economy 

Description of school district 

School board policy statement on dropouts 

School district reports on dropouts 

Dropout prevention plan and any annual updates 


INTERVIEW 
INTERVIEW 
INTERVIEW 
DOCUMENTS 
DOCUMENTS 
DOCUMENTS 
DOCUMENTS 
DOCUMENTS 


SCHOOL ALXGNISTRATION LEVEL 

High school principal 

Assistant principal (s) 

Head of counseling department 

Membership and W2 data for past 5 years 

Referral forms for 20 recent dropouts 

Grade transcripts for 20 recent dropouts 

Testing data for 20 recent dropouts 


INTERVIEW 
INTERVIEW 
INTERVIEW 
DOCUMENTS 
DOCUMENTS 
DOCUMENTS 
DOCUMENTS 


DEPARTMENT/PROGRAM LEVEL 

Head of English department 
Head of vocational education department 
Head of special education department 
Head of "alternative" program (s) 
Head of in-schcol suspension program 


INTERVIEW 
INTERVIEW 
INTERVIEW 
INTERVIEW 
INTERVIEW 


CURRENT STUDENTS 

Students in 11th grade English, advanced 
Students in 11th grade English, regular 
Students in 11th grade English, remedial 
Small groups of students 


SURVEY FORM 
SURVEY FORM 
SURVEY FORM 
FOCUS GROUP 


RECENT DROPOUTS 

Recent school dropouts 

Parents of recent school dropouts 


PHONE INTERVIEW 
PHONE INTERVIEW 



CHAPTER TWO 
THE YEEW FHH CENTRAL OFFICE 

Separate interviews, each lasting around one hour, were 
conducted with the school district superintendent, the assistant 
(or associate) superintendent responsible for instruction, and the 
administrator assigned as district dropout prevention coordinator. 
Interview guides were followed, with the individuals having the 
opportunity to review the questions in advance of the interview. 
Materials, including school board goal statements, school district 
brochures, special reports dealing with at-risk students and 
dropout prevention measures, and the district's dropout prevention 
plan, were provided in support of the interviews. 

There were clear areas of consensus among administrators of 
districts with low and high dropout schools. All eight sets of 
district leaders were articulate and generally aware of the issues 
pertaining to dropout causes and the required interventions. All 
emphasized the need for early identification, counseling services 
at all grade levels, and a comprehensive approach to the problem. 
All felt that their local school boards were encouraging of steps 
taken to reduce dropout rates. All spoke favorably of the 
assistance being provided by the state to help with dropout 
prevention, but called for greater local discretion and 
flexibility in the use of allocated funds. 



10 



Districts with the low dropout rate schools were quick to 
identify at least one program of which they were particularly 
proud: a strong vocational program, an innovative extended day 
program, or an extensive network of social services in support of 
students with problems; but also quick to point to a complement of 
additional strong programs which were collectively contributing to 
dropout prevention. They emphasized that there were no easy and 
immediate solutions, rather a sustained and expanding effort was 
required to further reduce the number of dropouts. A common 
remark was that the district could not be complacent, that "even 
one dropout was too many." 

Districts with the high dropout schools tended to have a 
good explanation for why the rate was so high. The attractiveness 
of work (as the means for expressing independence and affording 
the opportunity to purchase a car and clothing) was seen as 
overriding the desire to do well in school. Their communities 
were described as working class and not education-oriented. 
Parents were cited for lack of real interest in their children's 
education and for no longer having the ability to control their 
children. These districts tended to view the local dropout rate 
as "moderate" rather than high and felt that efforts underway to 
reduce the rate would, in time, be effective. The administrators 
tended to think that a certain number of dropouts was inevitable 
and that little could be done to change decisions of this core 
group. 

While both sets of administrators emphasized the importance 
of early identification and elementary school efforts in the 
overall dropout prevention effort, there was a difference in 



perspective. The common argument among the districts with high 
dropout schools was that it is already too late to make a 
significant difference at the high school level, that "students 
begin dropping out in the third or fourth grades." Therefore, a 
long-term approach is needed beginning at the elementary or even 
pre-kindergarten level. The administrators from districts with 
low dropout schools, in contrast, were turning their focus to the 
lower grades because they felt that their secondary school 
programs were doing well as a result of several years of effort 
and improvements and now wanted to extend these successes downward 
to the lower grade levels. 

All administrators saw counseling as the backbone of any 
successful dropout prevention effort. The earlier students with 
problems could be identified, counseled effectively and offered 
appropriate remediation, the greater was the chance that these 
students would remain in school, find sources for academic and 
social successes, and graduate. There was a unanimous call for 
funds for more counselors to work with at-risk students at all 
grade levels. The early teen years were viewed by all as 
particularly vulnerable times for many youngsters. Several 
programs were underway to inculcate more positive self-images and 
to encourage better life choices. Concern about drug use among 
teenagers was a motivating force behind some of these programs. 

Related to the counseling component was the early 
identification of students with academic or other problems. All 
districts had efforts in place to pinpoint at-risk students, not 
only at the secondary level but also at the elementary and 
kindergarten levels. Test scores and referrals of teachers and 

12 



aides were the common sources for early identification at the 
elementary and middle school levels. Computer printouts of 
students with failing or near- failing grades, as well as daily 
attendance lists and absence reports, were the usual sources for 
targeting students with problems at the secondary schools. 

In-schcol suspension programs were generally viewed as 
positive contributions to the overall school climate and as 
effective responses to discipline problems, but not as 
cornerstones for dropout prevention efforts. Three of the 
districts with the high dropout schools felt that the monies 
provided for such programs could better be used elsewhere, if 
dropout prevention was the concern. These districts felt that the 
students being directed to in-school suspension were not the 
highest risk students but were better characterized as "middle-of- 
the-road discipline cases". In contrast, three of the districts 
with low dropout schools pointed with pride to the success of 
their in-school suspension programs in affording opportunities for 
one-on-one counseling and as a vehicle for mobilizing parents in 
support of the education of their children. 

The administrators, particularly the superintendents, were 
largely critical of the G.E.D. programs offered at the local 
community colleges. They felt these programs were too attractive 
to marginal students, in affording an easy way to compensate for 
lack of effort in public school and still earn a degree. Feelings 
were mixed concerning the "legitimacy" of extended day programs. 
Some saw these programs as a viable second chance option for 
students; others saw these as academically inferior programs. 
None of the four districts with high dropout schools had extended 






day programs to which they could point with pride. Rather, these 
programs were small and underfunded. In contrast, two of the 
districts with low dropout schools felt they had excellent 
extended day programs that made a significant difference in the 
lives of many students who would otherwise have dropped out of 
school and stayed out. 

Most of the school districts felt that they were doing 
better now than in earlier years in combining forces with local 
social service agencies to help pregnant teens and young mothers 
to continue their education. Similarly, they felt that their job 
placement and work-study efforts were getting stronger. 
Vocational education programs were frequently mentioned as major 
factors in keeping groups of students in school through 
graduation, especially by districts with low dropout schools. 

Summary 

In summary, all district administrators recognized the need 
for a comprehensive approach to the problem of dropout prevention, 
extending from pre-school through secondary school. They 
recognized that there were many factors contributing to dropout 
decisions, and the precipitating factor could be academic 
difficulties, outside work opportunities, pregnancy, drug and 
alcohol abuse, or problems at home. The importance of early 
identification of a student with problems and the ability to 
follow through by directing the student to someone in the school 
system or in the caramunity with the interest, resources, and 
skills to help to solve these problems were seen as critical to 
success. 



14 



While having a shared sense of the causes for school dropout 
and a recognition of the broad-sweeping programs needed to 
effectively respond to the problems of the potential dropout, the 
districts with low dropout schools appeared further along in their 
ability to follow-through than districts with high dropout 
schools. Administrators of districts with low dropout schools 
viewed their success with pride and caution, arguing that more 
needed to be done and would be done. Administrators of districts 
with high dropout schools felt they were aware of what needed to 
be done, were moving in these directions, and that time was 
required to realize success. All administrators identified the 
requirement for more funds for personnel and programs, and for 
more local flexibility in the use of these funds. The 
administrators with the low dropout schools, in particular, viewed 
dropout prevention as an integral part of the total educational 
delivery system, and cautioned against treating dropout prevention 
as an isolated program with separate goals and resources apart 
from those of the school district's regular instructional program. 

Table 3, on the next page, provides highlights of thse 
interviews with central office administrators. 



15 



Table 3: HIGHLIGHTS FROM CENTRAL OFFICE INTERVIEWS 



All administrators recognized the need for a ccarprehensive 
approach to the challenge of dropout prevention, extending 
from pre-schcol through secondary school 



Districts with low dropout schools had mobilized more resources 
to provide program follcwthrough at the secondary school level 
than had districts with high dropout schools 



Districts with low dropout schools felt that definite 
improvements had been made but that sustained and expanded 
efforts were still required 



Districts with high dropout schools had explanations for these 
high rates and felt they were doing a reasonable job at 
keeping the rates within moderate bounds 



Districts with low dropout schools identified one program of 
which they were particularly proud, plus a complement of other 
strong programs which collectively contributed to dropout 
prevention 



Districts with high dropout schools were taking a long-term 
approach, placing their hopes on early intervention efforts; 
districts with low dropout schools were turning their focus to 
the lower grades after having first established successful 
high school dropout prevention programs 



All administrators emphasized the need for early identification 
of at-risk students and early counselor intervention 



All administrators called for greater flexibility in the use of 
dropout prevention funds provided by the state 



16 



CHAPTER THREE 
DISTRICT DROPOUT PREVENTION PLANS 

A systematic reading of the dropout prevention plans for 
each of the eight high schools visited uncovered no apparent 
patterns that would account for differences between districts with 
schools with high dropout rates and those with schools with low 
dropout rates. For both sets of schools, the dropout prevention 
plans were, from all appearances, relatively comprehensive and 
legitimate attempts to address the problem of dropouts. The 
standard formats provided by the state tended to insure that plans 
were reasonably well constructed, covered district strengths and 
weaknesses with regard to dropout efforts, and laid out projects 
and timetables for their implementation. 

While there were some differences among plans in terms of 
the depth of analysis and attention to evaluation measures to 
gauge progress, these differences were not reflected in either the 
comprehensiveness of programs at the schools nor in their 
successes in reducing dropout rates. For example, the plan with 
the most concrete and measurable goals for each objective came 
from the district with a high school with one of the worst dropout 
rates in the state. Other vaguer, less specific plans came from 
districts with schools with low dropout rates. 

In conducting the interviews, it became apparent that the 
district dropout prevention plan was viewed more as a necessary 
burden to obtain state funding than as a vehicle for tackling the 
problem of school dropouts. The task of writing the plan was 

17 



frequently assigned to one individual in central office who was 
good at writing proposals. The task sometimes fell on the 
director of vocational education. In a few cases, school level 
personnel were asked to participate in meetings devoted to the 
plan. Some districts required school level personnel to submit 
written inputs or building level plans, which were incorporated 
into the district plan. In most cases, however, one or a few 
persons in the central office pulled together the plan from 
available documents and knowledge of programs under way or 
requested, without much school level input. 

The majority of school administrators, counselors, and 
department heads interviewed admitted to having never seen the 
plan. They knew that it was responsible for funding the in-school 
suspension program and part of a counselor's salary, but had no 
idea of its content nor of the arguments which supported the plan. 
In one case, the in-school suspension coordinator and counselors 
had asked for a copy of the plan, but the district had decided 
that it was not appropriate for them to see it. 

Among the high school principals and the assistant 
principals who had seen it, there was general acceptance of the 
document as useful, with the most common comments at both high and 
low dropout rate schools being that it "makes us think about the 
problem" and "gives us some guidelines to follow." However, most 
were quick to add that while the plan sounded great on paper, its 
contents were not reflected in the day-to-day reality of their 
schools, or that it was simply a compilation of programs already 
underway. 



1R 



Table 4, on the next page, highlights the main observations 
of the study team concerning the dropout prevention plans. 



19 



Table 4: HIGHIJGHES FRCM DISTRICT DROPOUT PREVENTION ELAN REVIEWS 



For all districts, the dropout prevention plans were, from all 
appearances, relatively comprehensive and legitimate attempts 
to address the problems of dropouts 



The quality or scope of the plans were not indicative of the 
success or lack of success of the district in reducing high 
school dropout rates 



District dropout prevention plans were viewed more as a 
necessary burden to obtain state funding than as a vehicle for 
tackling the problem of school dropouts 



In most cases, a few people at the central office pulled 

the plan together from their knowledge and available documents 

without much input from the schools 



The majority of school administrators, counselors, and 
department heads interviewed admitted to never having seen 
their district's plan 



The most common comment on the plans was that "it makes us 
think about the problem"; but it was also admitted that the 
contents of the plans were not fully reflected in the day-to-day 
reality of their schools or were simply compilations of programs 
already underway at the schools 



20 



CHAPTER POUR 
THE PERSPECTIVE OF THE SCHOOL ERLNCIPAL 

Principals and assistant principals at each of the eight 
high schools were interviewed in separate sessions, each lasting 
around one hour. A structured interview guide was followed which 
included questions on recent dropout trends, profiles of dropouts, 
academic deficiencies and behavior problems associated with 
dropout prone students, interventions employed to counter these 
deficiencies and problems, strengths and shortcomings of the 
counseling, summer school, in-schcol suspension and alternative 
programs, parental involvement and support, and links to community 
colleges and local service organizations. The individuals 
interviewed were also asked to identify resources the school 
needed to improve its dropout prevention programs. 

One clear pattern became immediately apparent. Principals 
from all four of the high dropout schools complained that while 
dropout prevention was a priority of the district, resources had 
not been forthcoming to their schools to tackle the problem in a 
concerted and vigorous way. One principal went so far as to state 
that "dropout prevention is almost a lost cause at this level." 
In marked contrast, the principals from the low dropout schools 
focused on the progress that was being made and on the program 
elements which were being implemented and improved. They too had 
requests for more resources, to sustain and ejq^and their efforts, 
but did not appear to be stuck or fighting an uphill battle, as 
did their counterparts at the high dropout schools. 

21 



Similar profiles of dropout-prone students emerged from 
interviews at both the high and low dropout schools. These were 
students who were deficient in basic skills, particularly reading; 
who were bored or frustrated in classroom contexts, and acted out 
this frustration through disorderly behavior or apathy. They 
tended to have histories of absences and tardies, in addition to 
generally poor grades. These school problems were frequently 
compounded by family problems, pressures to work, or pregnancy. 
Whereas the principals from high dropout schools complained of 
social promotions at the lower grade levels that were adding 
students to their roles who could not perform at high school 
levels and of students with problems which an overworked 
counseling staff could not adequately address, the principals at 
the low dropout schools identified specific program components in 
place to deal with each of the problems indicated. 

Programs were in place, for example, to work with pregnant 
teens through counseling and homebound assistance. Parents were 
included in the efforts to keep the students in school as long as 
possible and to encourage their return to school following child 
birth. Where regular programs were inappropriate, extended day 
programs were operating and could usually accommodate these 
students. Students who needed to work were helped to find 
employment which did not conflict with their schooling, and were 
assisted with flexible course schedules which meshed with work 
demands. Considerable attention was given to placing students in 
classes geared to their ability levels, and to moving them to 
classes where they could succeed when difficulties emerged. 



on 



Attempts to counter high dropout rates through stricter 
policies had not proven successful. One school district had 
instituted an attendance policy designed to reduce absenteeism by 
triggering an automatic failure after ten absences including one 
unexcused absence. The number of absent days reported did go 
down; but students "caught" by the policy and facing failure 
regardless of their academic performance were dropping out and 
going to work. A school which introduced a punitive in-schcol 
suspension program to cut down on suspensions did keep the number 
of repeaters to a minimum, but did not reduce the number of 
dropouts. 

The principals and assistant principals from low dropout 
schools were enthusiastic about their schools and viewed dropout 
programs as additional elements in their "total approach" to 
meeting the needs of kids. They argued that the same quality and 
attention which went into their dropout programs could be seen in 
their academic, vocational, and athletic programs. The emphasis 
was on a positive school climate with opportunities for all 
students to be successful. Knowing every student in the school by 
their first name was seen as a priority for the administrators. 
While parental involvement was not all that they would like, they 
did feel that the parents had generally positive feelings about 
their schools and the education their children were receiving. 
When it became necessary to contact a parent concerning a problem, 
the parent was almost always supportive of the intentions of the 
school and available to help. 

The principals from the low dropout schools, while seeing 
the need for more counseling support at their schools and at the 

23 



elementary and middle schools, had taken steps to make counseling 
resources available to students in need of these services. The 
principals at the high dropout schools recognized the need for a 
full time, trained counselor to work exclusively with at-risk 
students. This was perhaps their highest priority with regard to 
dropout prevention efforts. They also saw the need to obtain 
clerical support to free regular counselors from administrative 
burdens so they could concentrate on counseling students. 

All principals, but particularly those from the high dropout 
schools, expressed concern about the large number of students who 
had demanding jobs after school which conflicted with their 
ability to study. They recognized the value of extended day 
programs, integrated with the regular program in terms of courses 
and teaching staff, as a viable means for acxxsmmodating students 
who needed to work. Still, they felt that many students were 
working far too many hours and perhaps being exploited by 
employers. All principals saw the value in keeping parents 
informed and interested in the educational progress of their 
children, but few had found a means for obtaining active support 
until the situation became critical. 

Most of the principals would have agreed with these comments 
of one assistant principal from a low dropout school: "We need to 
have a viable response to every excuse a student may have for 
wanting to leave school. This means continuing to stretch our 
resources as far as we can to help kids to succeed and not give 
up." The low dropout schools, in general, appeared to be further 
along in their ability to translate this attitude into practice. 

Highlights from the interviews with principals and assistant 
principals appear on the next page as Table 5. 



Table 5: HTOIKEGHIS FROM INTERVIEWS WITH SCHOOL PRINCEPAIS 



Principals from the high dropout schools emphasized that while 
dropout prevention was a priority of the school district, 
adequate resources were not provided to tackle the problem 
in a concerted and vigorous manner 



Attempts to counter high dropout rates through stricter 
policies have not proven successful 



Principals from low dropout schools viewed dropout programs 
and dropout prevention efforts as elements in a "total approach" 
to meeting the needs of the entire student population 



Whereas principals from high dropout schools complained of 
social promotions at the lower grade levels and of students 
with problems which an overworked counseling staff could not 
adequately address, principals at low dropout schools identified 
specific program components in place to deal with each of the 
problems indicated 



While all principals saw the need for more counseling support 
at their schools, as well as at lower grade levels, those from 
the low dropout schools had found ways to make more counseling 
services available to their at-risk students 



All principals, but particularly those from high dropout 
schools, expressed concern about the large number of students 
with demanding after-school jobs 



25 



CHAPTER FIVE 
THE COUNSELING COMPONENT 

Interviews were held with members of the (counseling 
department at each of the eight high schools. The number of 
counselors on staff varied across schools and ranged from two to 
five. The almost universal observation of the counselors 
interviewed, as well as other administrators at the school, was 
that the counselors have extremely heavy administrative workloads 
(schedule changes, meetings, recommendations for college and 
scholarships, and other paperwork) that can preclude meaningful 
and sustained interaction with the at-risk students needing such 
attention. A disproportionate share of the time of counselors was 
spent responding to the needs of college bound students. 

The schools with low dropout rates have each found ways of 
freeing counselors to work with at-risk students. Three of these 
schools have located funds for clerical support to free up some of 
the counselors' time for interaction with students. The value of 
this asset was highly rated, and schools lacking this clerical 
support frequently ranked it highest among their needs. The 
fourth low dropout school has a network of "specialized 
counselors' 1 in place that includes teachers and other staff 
members. When a regular counselor is unable or unavailable to 
assist a student, there is someone else qualified and ready to 
work with the student. 



26 



An important component of each of the low dropout schools 
was their ability to maintain contact with each of their at-risk 
students and not let them "disappear". Attendance rolls were 
checked daily, and there was follow-up on at-risk students marked 
absent. Administrators and teachers worked together to keep 
abreast of the progress of at-risk students and to also pinpoint 
stronger students who exhibited sudden changes in behavior or 
poorer academic performance. Students with perceived problems 
were referred to the counseling office. 

Counselors at each of the eight schools agreed that in- 
schcol suspension (ISS) is a sound program and a preferred 
alternative to out of school suspension. There was also agreement 
that although it is beneficial, it is not a dropout prevention 
measure in and of itself. At the low dropout rate schools, where 
extensive individual and group counseling and alternative program 
options are in place, ISS is viewed as an integral component of a 
total effort to intervene on behalf of the dropout prone student. 
At the high dropout rate schools, without this range of 
complementary programs, ISS was not seen as having much long-term 
impact on reducing the number of students leaving school. 

The counselors at the low dropout schools felt that their 
schools had firm grips on the problem and suggested that resources 
were needed at other grade levels to catch problems earlier. More 
elementary school counseling and ISS programs at the elementary 
level were suggested by the counselors. They all reported good 
transition programs between elementary and middle (or junior 
high) , and between middle and senior high school. 



97 



At the high dropout schools, the counselors tended to have a 
less optimistic, more fatalistic view of their school's dropout 
situation. Each reported that the school's rate was high and due 
in part to a student body containing relatively large numbers of 
at-risk students. They felt that parents were largely indifferent 
to their children's educational needs, and often actively 
encouraged them to work at the expense of school. 

These counselors estimated that at least half of their time 
was expended performing administrative and clerical tasks at the 
expense of interaction with students. Their schools lacked 
personnel to actively seek at-risk students for counseling. 
Counselors became aware of problems only after students got into 
trouble, were assigned to ISS, were referred by a concerned 
teacher or friend, or requested help on their own. Too many 
students were just "disappearing" before the counselors were aware 
of problems. When counseling did occur, there was inadequate time 
and resource options to offer the level of response that was 
required and demanded. 

Counselors from the high dropout rate schools identified 
several immediate needs of their schools, apart from help to 
reduce their administrative loads. A full-time person, with 
counseling training, was required to work specifically with 
dropouts and at-risk students and to increase home-school 
contacts. They also identified many students with basic skills 
deficiencies, particularly in reading and math, that could only be 
addressed in smaller classes with more individualized attention. 
Several suggested that a partial answer to many dropouts lay in 
more extensive vocational offerings coupled with life skills 

28 



training, to prepare these students for decent jobs. All 
counselors were concerned with the number of students leaving 
school to work, whether out of family need or a personal desire to 
have money to buy and maintain a car, or purchase clothing and 
other goods. They noted that local communities frequently placed 
a higher importance on working than on education. Merchants and 
businesses hire students and schedule them to work long and often 
late hours. 

The basic difference between the schools with low versus 
high dropout rates was captured succinctly by one counselor from a 
low dropout school: "Kids are more open today than ever before 
and are responsive to counseling, if they feel it is not 
superficial. The key is to have adequate numbers of people 
available to work with students with problems, to listen to them, 
and act responsively to their needs. This requires time and 
commitment, and often means visits to their homes as well as long 
talks with them." 

Highlights of the interviews with counselors, and of 
discussions with others concerning counseling, appear as Table 6 
on the next page. 



OQ 



Table 6: HKHLEGHES FBCH IMIHW3HB WTIH GOQNSEE£RS 



The almost universal observation of counselors, as well as 
others at the schools, was that the counselors have extremely 
heavy administrative workloads which conflict with their 
abilities to offer direct services to students 



Counselors at high dropout schools estimated that at least 
half their time was spent in administrative and clerical tasks 
rather than with students 



Schools with low dropout rates had each found ways of freeing 
counselors, or hiring additional counselors, to work with 
at-risk students 



The counselors at the low dropout schools felt that their 
schools had a firm grip on the dropout problem and thought that 
resources were needed at earlier grade levels to catch problems 
earlier 



Counselors at high dropout schools identified several 
immediate needs at their schools: a full-time dropout prevention 
counselor, smaller classes with more individualized attention 
for students with basic skills deficiencies, and more extensive 
vocational offerings to prepare students for decent jobs 



All counselors expressed concern over the number of students 
working long hours at after-school jobs 



30 



CHAPTER SIX 
INTERVIEWS WTffl DEPARTMENT HEADS 

Interviews were conducted at each school with the heads of 
the English, vocational education, and special education 
departments. At the high dropout schools, the department heads 
were more likely to view the dropout problem as originating 
outside the school and as outside their control. A typical 
viewpoint was that their dropouts come from low socio-economic 
families with parents who themselves did not complete high school 
nor place high value on their children completing their education. 
At the low dropout high schools, the department heads were more 
likely to talk about progress on the problem and what was being 
done rather than about why little could be done. 

A strong vocational program was considered by almost 
everyone interviewed as a key to low dropout rates. The heads of 
the vocational education departments at the low dropout rate 
schools were quite free both in their praise for their programs 
and in taking credit for part of their schools' successes in 
keeping the number of dropouts down. At some of the high dropout 
schools, the vocational education efforts were credited for 
encouraging some students to stay in school and for keeping the 
dropout rate "moderate." 



31 



At both high and low dropout schools the caramon academic 
deficiency seen by department heads was reading ability and other 
basic language-related skills. Dropout prone students were 
struggling and often failing in every class that involved reading 
assignments. In addition to calling for earlier identification 
and remediation of reading deficiencies, several people thought 
that there needed to be reduced-level texts for the students who 
do make it to the high school with reading difficulties. It was 
suggested that some of these materials might focus on relevant 
vocational topics that would engage and instruct these students 
without frustrating them with words and concepts they could not 
grasp. 

Because of the stigma of labeling, department heads noted 
that remedial courses in reading and writing need to be dealt with 
sensitively. Many of the English department heads reported that 
students are ashamed of being labeled "weak" or "slow" in English 
and avoid these classes because of the taint associated with them. 
The few schools that reported having no stigma attached to their 
remedial English courses were very careful about how they dealt 
with students. At one school, classes were not labeled, even 
though the teachers and most students knew there were levels, and 
the existence of levels was further disguised by having no 
"remedial teachers". Instead remedial class assignments were 
rotated among the whole teaching staff. At another school, the 
stigma was reduced through self -placement into remedial courses. 
Most individuals interviewed stressed the point that these classes 
needed to have a small student/teacher ratio or have an aide if 
they were to be effective. 

**9 



One concern raised by several of the heads of vocational 
education, and by others, was that the Basic Education Plan's 
strong focus on academic requirements was hurting vocational 
education because it was reducing the number of available elective 
credits that students could use for vocational courses or for 
pursuing vocational sequences. While they generally supported the 
Plan, they felt that this emphasis might push out marginal 
students who only stayed in school for the vocational training. 
Even the heads of the English department at several of the high 
dropout schools called for a more vocationally oriented 
curriculum, "something that would meet the kids where their 
interests lie." 

There was unanimous consensus among the heads of the special 
education departments that ultimately it is the teachers that make 
the difference with many dropout-prone students. Working in 
special educational teaching situations, with smaller class sizes 
and opportunities for individualized attention and instruction, 
special education teachers could see progress in subject areas and 
improvements in self-image and confidence as successes were 
realized. They felt that the availability of classes with low 
student-teacher ratios, coupled with responsive counseling for 
students with problems requiring this service, was keeping 
otherwise marginal students in school until graduation. The close 
relationship which the special education department had with 
students, and often with their parents as well, was also 
contributing to the decisions of students to remain in school. 
One school, for example, reported having only three of 65 special 
service students drop out during the school year. 

33 



Extended day programs were seen as viable options for some 
students, as they permitted them to work while continuing their 
education in smaller, individual paced settings. The presence of 
a full-time counselor to work with students in these programs, as 
well as with dropout-prone students in the regular school, was 
viewed as an important component of such programs. The general 
atmosphere of the extended day programs, with directors and staff 
who communicate interest in their students and have more 
opportunities to demonstrate their commitment to the students than 
are afforded in regular classroom settings, was seen as having a 
positive effect on many students who would otherwise have left 
school for good. 

Table 7, on the next page, offers highlights from the 
interviews with department heads. 






-XA 



Table 7: HIGHLJGHES F9CM INTERVIEWS WFffl DEPARTMENT HEADS 



At high dropout schools, department heads were more likely 
to view the dropout problem as originating outside the school 
and outside their control 



At the low dropout schools, the department heads were more 
likely to talk about progress in working with dropout prone 
students 



At both high and low dropout schools the common academic 
deficiency was reading ability and other basic language skills; 
dropout prone students were struggling and often failing in 
every class that involved significant reading assignments 



A strong vocational program was considered by almost everyone 
as a key to low dropout rates 



Heads of vocational education, and some others, felt that the 
BEP's academic requirements were often running counter to 
requirements for a strong vocational education curriculum 



Heads of special education programs felt that the availability 
of classes with low student-teacher ratios, coupled with 
close contact with the students and their parents, were keeping 
most special education students in school until graduation 



35 



CHAPTER SEVEN 
IN-SCHOOL SUSPENSION PROGRAMS 

Interviews were conducted with the individual or individuals 
at each school who were responsible for operating the in-school 
suspension (ISS) programs. In addition, most administrators and 
teachers interviewed were queried about their views of the ISS 
programs at their schools. These programs are required by the 
state, are in place at secondary schools throughout North 
Carolina, and are sometimes the primary component of the 
district's dropout prevention program. A program guide has been 
developed by the Department of Public Instruction to provide 
assistance to districts and schools in developing and operating 
the ISS programs. However, as became clear during the site 
visits, there was wide variation in how these programs were 
actually being implemented. 

A very common, though not universal, comment on the in- 
school suspension program made by individuals interviewed at both 
the district and building levels, was that the in-school 
suspension program was a worthwhile tool for discipline, but not 
the cornerstone for a "dropout prevention program." While ISS did 
help in keeping dropout-prone students in school, many believed 
that most of the students in ISS were not very likely to drop out 
in any case and would not have been suspended from school for the 
offenses which sent them to ISS. It was a stop-gap measure for 
some students who might be on the road to dropping out of school, 
but rarely made the difference in the decision to leave school. 

36 



It simply postponed the decision, perhaps allowing time for more 
decisive interventions. These comments were heard at both high 
and low dropout schools. 

There were marked differences, however, in the way in which 
ISS was conceived and operated at the high versus low dropout 
schools. The two schools with clearly punitive philosophies, 
operational ized through the deliberate creation of unpleasant 
environments for the suspendees, were both at high dropout 
schools. At one of these schools, ISS was held in a converted 
concession stand. The facility had no windows, one door, no air 
conditioning and only a small space heater. Whether the students 
felt "punished" being sent to this ISS can only be surmised, but 
the coordinator said he felt he was, and absolutely hated the job. 
The other school with a punitive philosophy kept the students in 
an ordinary classroom, but had replaced the desks with straight- 
back chairs and consciously kept the room either too cold or too 
warm, depending on the season. Students were not given any 
academic work to do in the first day of a suspension, but instead 
were made to sit still and silent in their straight-back chairs 
(or on the floor if they preferred) all day long. 

The one school which appeared to operate ISS with a 
philosophy from the other end of the spectrum, namely that 
students need a nurturing environment to work through the reasons 
which caused their suspension, was also at a high dropout school. 
One consequence of this philosophy was a repeat offender rate of 
over 80%. Out of 571 students suspended during this year 468 were 
repeat offenders. The ISS at this school had a waiting list, and 
students had to wait as long as three weeks to serve their time. 



The philosophy of the fourth high dropout school was middle 
of the road. Students spent their time quietly doing their work. 
However, in the afternoon the class as a group did "paper detail," 
picking up trash from the campus grounds. The apparent success of 
the ISS, as expressed by several persons interviewed, was due to 
the personality of the individual running the program rather than 
to any effective program elements that could be replicated 
elsewhere. His 6-foot, 8-inch stature gave him a natural 
authority that allowed him to keep order without attempting to 
intimidate the students. His outgoing personality allowed him to 
establish a good rapport with the students which he actively 
cultivated outside of ISS as well, so that troubled students would 
not have to be sent there just to get the chance to talk with him. 
The philosophies of ISS at the low dropout schools were more 
clearly focused on remediation and rehabilitation. Where 
punishment was part of the philosophy, it was more restrained. 
One of the ISS's at a low dropout school did not appear to be 
working well, but that seemed to be a result of the mismatch 
between the job and the person who held it. He felt out of place 
and isolated, and did not see the position as a useful one. One 
low dropout school which seemed to have a particularly successful 
ISS had students fill out a lengthy diagnostic instrument which 
focused on why they were sent to ISS, the circumstances 
surrounding the incident, and their behaviors and attitudes in a 
variety of academic and social areas. The results of these 
surveys were reviewed by a counselor and when deemed appropriate 
the students were given one-on-one counseling. This counselor 
came to ISS around noon each day for one hour of group counseling 

38 



that focused on the attitudes and behaviors that led to the 
students being suspended. 

Another of the low dropout schools employed a point system. 
Suspendees had to earn points to get out of the program, by 
completing assignments, by being on task, and by engaging 
constructively in group discussions. A dropout counselor worked 
with the ISS coordinator to insure adequate counseling where 
appropriate. Based on a teacher's request, suspendees were 
permitted to return to the classroom for particular lessons that 
the teacher felt were too critical to be missed. The program had 
a low repeat rate. 

At the eight schools visited there were ten individuals who 
operated ISS, half-time or more. Most of these individuals had no 
formal background or training in counseling or psychology. Most 
of them were coaches. Most of the ISS programs at both high and 
low schools tried to put a focus on academic work, and said that 
at least 75% of the time in ISS was spent on academic work. 
Several said as much as 95% of the time was spent on school work. 
One exception, as noted above, was the high dropout school with a 
punitive philosophy which gave no academic work at all in the 
first day of suspension, and provided no desks for students to 
work on after the first day. 

Teachers had mixed opinions of ISS. They felt it was 
filling a gap in the system by keeping problem students in school 
rather than out on the streets. They also felt they were 
themselves being "punished" by having to prepare and grade special 
lesson plans developed for students who had often been inattentive 
or disruptive in the classroom. The ISS coordinators praised 



TQ 



certain teachers for developing excellent work activities, and for 
taking after school time to work with suspended students to permit 
them to catch up with their class; they were critical of other 
teachers who provided no plans or lessons, or sent activities 
which the students could complete in ten minutes or less. Several 
ISS coordinators expressed a need for better resource materials to 
use with students when teacher assignments were inadequate. 

As suggested above, many of the offenses for which students 
were sent to ISS were not offenses that would have led to an out- 
of -school suspension. In several of the schools, as many as 30% 
of the student body had been in in-school suspension during the 
current school year. Students who worked were particularly 
vulnerable. To illustrate, a student would oversleep after 
working late hours at the job. He would be assigned to after 
school detention, but could not appear because of job (Commitments. 
He therefore was sent to ISS for three days. Other students found 
themselves in ISS because of smoking violations in schools which 
formerly permitted smoking but now were cracking down on smokers. 

In summary, the low dropout schools are taking a more 
positive approach to in-school suspension, and where punishment is 
part of the philosophy, it is moderated. At the majority of the 
low dropout schools, affirmative steps are being taken to help the 
students past the problems that led them to ISS. At the high 
dropout schools, counseling is used little or not at all. The ISS 
program is viewed as a stop-gap measure to deal with discipline 
problems and not linked to an overall dropout prevention strategy. 

Highlights of the review of in-school suspension programs 
appears on the next page, as Table 8. 

40 



Table 8: HIGHLIGHTS FROM REVIEWS OF IN-SOCOL SUSPENSION FKX3W6 



Although the ISS program is mandated by the state and guidelines 
exist, there was wide variation in how in-school suspension was 
implemented at the schools 



Most of the heads of in-school suspension had no formal 
background or training in counseling or psychology, and most 
of them were coaches 



The two school visited with clearly punitive philosophies, as 
well as the one with the most nurturing environment, were at 
high dropout schools 



At most of the high dropout schools, counseling was used very 
little or not at all 



The in-school suspension programs at the low dropout schools 
were more clearly focused on remediation and rehabilitation 



A common observation from personnel at all levels was that while 
in-school suspension was a worthwhile tool for discipline, it 
was not the cornerstone of a dropout prevention program; the 
student under suspension were not necessarily the most prone to 
drop out of school 



41 



CHAPTER EIGHT 
AEEERNATIVE FHOGRAMS 

Seven of the eight schools visited had an alternative 
program of some type in place. These school options, while 
varying in structure, policy, and atmosphere across schools, were 
extended day programs, JTPA programs, or a combination of the two. 
The one school without an alternative program was a low dropout 
school with an excellent vocational education department. 

Of the four high dropout schools visited, two had extended 
day programs and two had JTPA programs. None of the coordinators 
of the programs associated with the four high dropout schools 
mentioned any type of connection or networking to other programs 
at the schools. When the regular school was mentioned, it was to 
reference or compare facilities, courses, privileges, or possible 
dual enrollments. 

One of these extended day alternatives allowed any 7th to 
12th grade student in the district to enroll. Students were 
referred by counselors or requested it themselves. Approximately 
230 students were in the program the past school year, most of 
whom had discipline problems, needed credits to graduate or pass a 
grade, or both. According to the program head, "some students 
don't have problems but simply prefer the relaxed atmosphere in 
extended day." They offered small classes, usually under 10:1 
student-teacher ratios, and a second chance to pass required 
English and math classes that often were failed previously. A 
nurse, a full-time guidance counselor, a half-time home economics 

42 



teacher, and 16 part-time teachers comprised the staff. The 
students tended to feel they were getting something out of it and 
there are usually no discipline problems. Even so, the overall 
dropout rate of the school remained high. 

The extended day program associated with the other high 
dropout school had the same basic structure. Enrollments were 
restricted to 9th to 12th graders referred by the junior high 
school or the principal of the high school. Students already out 
of school had to contact the program head for permission to enter. 
Approximately 90-100 students were served this past school year, 
most of whom had family or some other problems. The program 
offered all the privileges of day school (proms, athletics, etc.), 
the same courses, equal length class periods, certified teachers, 
and the same facilities. Remedial English classes were available, 
but no remedial math or reading was offered. Rather than the 
"relaxed atmosphere" of the above-mentioned program, this extended 
day school had a "tough love" policy that tolerated no 
disobedience or discipline problems from students. First offense 
discipline offenders were given one chance to 'straighten up, 1 
but the next offense put them out of the program. Class sizes 
ranged from 23 to 32 students, while the program head felt the 
maximum size should be 17 to 20 students. The program had limited 
success as evidenced by the fact that 66% dropped out. 

The JTPA program coordinators of the high dropout schools 
had a lot less to say about their programs. One school's JTPA had 
a full-time job counselor at the high school and a part-time 
dropout prevention counselor at the junior high. They enrolled 
about 40 students and focused mainly on job training for 

41 



economically and educationally disadvantaged students. Few 
discipline problems were encountered and 39 of the 41 students who 
enrolled the past school year remained in the program. The 
resources believed to be most needed were computers, smaller 
remedial classes, and more support from local businesses. 

The JTPA program of the other high dropout school emphasized 
life skills, pre-employment skills, and administering the paid 250 
hour co-op program. Referrals were made by teachers and 
enrollment, as mandated by law, was based on economic 
disadvantage. Of the 23 students enrolled in the program the past 
year, only 3 dropped out (one of whom was forced by his mother to 
go to work full time) . Role playing and other activities helped 
ready students to assume a position in the working world. The 
program head felt a strong need for more parental involvement in 
the school and more discipline. She believed that more facilities 
and training equipment were the most needed resources. 

The alternative programs at the low dropout schools tended 
to be more comprehensive in structure and more closely linked with 
the regular school, another school program, or both. The one 
school with JTPA as its alternative program included a "work 
experience n component as well as training. The coordinator 
reported that about 8 of the 20 students in the program had been 
placed in unsubsidized jobs, and the other 12 were still in the 
program. The coordinator felt that the program was helping keep 
some potential dropouts in school until graduation, but also 
thought that the school system needed to identify potential 
dropouts earlier and then "find something they can be successful 
at." He also thought the school needed an extended day program. 

44 



One low dropout school offered a combination JTPA/extended 
day alternative. Its extensive outreach activities to recruit 
students included church presentations, bulletin distributions, 
and actively seeking referrals from adults in the school and the 
community. All privileges of regular school were carried by the 
program, including having its own basketball team to play other 
schools' extended day programs. JTPA was an integral part and 
focused on providing students with pre-employment and job skills. 
Students could enroll at any time during the year. Small classes 
(7-20 students) allowed individual attention. The program was a 
flexible one with the goal of making students marketable and 
competent. They tried to tie all of the basic competency areas 
together in every class, offering a comprehensive approach to 
individualized learning. The program had a diploma award rate of 
80% of its enrollment. 

The remaining low dropout school had an extended day 
alternative program called the Comprehensive Program. This was 
indeed the most comprehensive and best organized of all those 
programs examined. It began as an extended day program ("evening 
school") and expanded to offer classes from the same time regular 
school starts on into the evening. It was very well integrated 
with the regular school with classes going on in the same building 
at the same time. Students had all the same privileges as in the 
regular school, and some had dual enrollments, selecting from both 
curricula. Students who failed 9th grade could take courses in 
the Comprehensive Program, while still attending the junior high 
to make up the courses they failed. An open door policy allowed 
dropouts to return to school at any point during the school year. 



Students in the program tended to have serious deficiencies in 
reading and in basic math skills. Labs were provided which 
emphasized individualized learning at the student's own pace. A 
close link with the local community college permitted students to 
take courses there and get additional job training, and also 
encouraged them to continue their education after getting a 
diploma. 

Outstanding among its features was the comprehensive 
counseling network incorporated into the program. Students in the 
program required and received constant contact and frequently 
developed a strong association with the program and with their 
fellow students. The staff were willing to "go the extra mile" 
for the students, and this was recognized and appreciated. A key 
component to the success of this program was this network of 
caring adults who were willing to help. The coordinator summed it 
up very effectively in the statement "There are no quick fixes to 
dropout prevention. It takes a lot of effort from a lot of 
individuals who want kids to succeed and are willing to invest 
time and energy toward this end. An alternative program has got 
to keep adjusting to meet the needs of kids and not simply 
accommodate the established framework of the school. It takes a 
comprehensive approach to planning services, mobilizing resources, 
and implementing activities." 

The most resourceful aspect of the programs in the low 
dropout schools was the networking of the adults and resources to 
ensure that students had the help they needed. Every program 
coordinator at the low rate schools mentioned a link or bridge 
with some other person or program that was readily available to 

46 



step in when present resources were not enough. By making the 
alternatives an extension of the regular school and an integral 
element of the total dropout prevention efforts, these programs 
have managed to make an impressive difference on the overall 
dropout rates of the schools with which they are associated. 

Highlights from the review of alternative programs are 
presented on the next page, as Table 9. 



47 



Table 9: mGHUGHTS FROM REVIEWS OF AETERNATIVE PROGRAMS 



The alternative options associated with the high dropout 
schools were generally not integrated with the regular school 
programs; several of the persons interviewed felt that these 
programs were not of the same standard as the regular program 



The alternative programs at the low dropout schools tended to 
be more comprehensive in structure and more closely linked with 
the regular school, another alternative program, or both 



The dropout rates in extended day schools which are separated 
from the regular high school were very high 



JTPA programs were successful in keeping students in school, 
but lacked the resources to provide the full range of services 
needed by the students in these programs 



The most resourceful aspect of the programs at the low dropout 
schools was the networking of adults and services to insure 
that students got the help they needed 



Several district and building level administrators felt that 
the G.E.D. programs at the community colleges were made to easy 
and were encouraging marginal students to leave high school for 
this easier option 



48 



CHAPTER NINE 
SURVEY OF STUEEMS 

At each of the high schools visited, a survey instrument was 
administered to gauge how a cross section of students perceived 
the dropout problem. The survey gathered opinions on issues 
related to dropping out, reasons why students drop out, and 
suggestions concerning what could be done to keep dropouts in 
school. A supplementary set of questions focused on after-school 
work patterns of the students completing the form. To obtain a 
fairly representative sample of students without placing an undue 
administrative burden on the schools, one class of each of three 
levels of eleventh grade English was surveyed at each school. The 
classes surveyed included a remedial class, a "regular" or 
"general" class, and a "college prep" or "advanced" class. At the 
eight schools a total of 24 classes were polled with nearly 20 
students per class responding, providing about 450 completed 
survey forms. 

The opinions of students on issues relating to dropping out 
were very similar for students at schools with high dropout rates 
and those at schools with low rates. For example, both at schools 
with high and low dropout rates, over 90% agreed and over 60% 
strongly agreed that it is difficult to get a decent job without a 
high school diploma. Over 80% at both types of schools indicated 
that they would feel less good about themselves if they did not 
earn a high school diploma. An identical 88% at both types of 
schools agreed or strongly agreed that the education they are 

49 



receiving is preparing them to reach their goals in life. Most 
students did not see dropouts in stereotyped fashion, with less 
than half agreeing with the statement that "the majority of 
dropouts are slow learners or disruptive students." Less than 
half at either type of school agreed that "people without high 
school diplomas are looked down upon by society." 

Where there were measurable differences in opinion between 
students at the two types of schools, the students at the high 
dropout schools were generally more likely to see dropping out as 
a problem. For example, while 65% of those at low dropout schools 
strongly agreed that dropouts are making a mistake, 74% of those 
at high dropout schools strongly agreed to the same statement. 
Students at schools with a high dropout rate were more likely to 
agree or strongly agree that a high school diploma and a G.E.D. 
are worth about the same by a margin of 43% to 30%. 

The students were asked to volunteer the main reasons why 
male students and why female students dropped out of school. The 
four most frequent reasons given for males dropping out, in order 
of greatest response, were: (1) wanting to go to work, (2) alcohol 
and drug use, (3) needing to go to work, and (4) becoming a 
father. For females, the most frequent reasons given, in order, 
were: (1) pregnancy, (2) wanting to go to work, (3) getting 
married, and (4) alcohol and drug use. Of interest, academic 
difficulties were not listed among the favored responses. 

The overwhelmingly dominant reason for females dropping out 
was pregnancy, being listed as 40% of all the "three main reasons" 
given. Another 9% of the reasons listed for females was marriage. 
Fatherhood and marriage accounted for a total of 11% of the 



reasons given for males dropping out. The students saw males as 
most likely to leave school to go to work. For males, 23% of the 
reasons listed were because they "wanted to go to work" and 8% 
because they "needed to go to work" which compared to 11% and 3% 
respectively for females. Alcohol and drug use accounted for 15% 
of the reasons given for males leaving school and 9% of the 
reasons given for females. However, when pregnancy is removed 
from the calculations, alcohol and drugs were given as reason for 
females (11%) nearly as often as for males leaving school. It 
should be noted that these reasons may reflect opinions gleaned 
from television and other sources and not necessarily from 
observations of their local school and peers. 

When the students were presented with a list of 14 possible 
reasons why many students drop out of school, almost every one of 
the 24 classrooms surveyed felt that two of three "strongest 
reasons" were pregnancy and alcohol or drug use. Next most 
frequently mentioned (each in 8 out of 24 classes) as "strong 
reasons" were "left home/family problems" and "needed to go to 
work." Worth noting were some factors that were not considered 
"strong reasons" for many students dropping out. Students did not 
see academic demands as being important factors for many dropouts 
— "school work was too hard" and "couldn't earn enough credits to 
graduate" did not rank among the top three "strong reasons" for 
any of the 24 classes. "Couldn't pass the competency exam" ranked 
among the top three for only one class — and in that case it 
ranked third. Notably, that was for a remedial class. Further, 
the competency exam was volunteered only a single time (out of 
over 1800 responses) as a reason that either males or females drop 

51 



out. That school work was too hard was volunteered as 5% of the 
reasons given for males dropping out and 2% of the reasons for 
females. 

The part of the survey dealing with employment outside of 
school clearly indicated that work was a major source of 
competition for students' time and energy, and perhaps one 
external force which influenced dropout rates. Over half of all 
the students surveyed worked outside of school. Of the students 
surveyed at schools with high dropout rates, 57% reported working 
outside of school compared to 45% of those surveyed at schools 
with low dropout rates. Of those working at all schools combined, 
about 67% worked 20 hours or more a week and about 8% worked 40 
hours a week or more. Again, at the school with high dropout 
rates the intensity of work was higher with 9% working 40 hours or 
more compared to 6% at schools with low dropout rates. 

The reasons the students gave for employment made it clear 
that economic necessity was an uncommon reason for students 
working. Among all the reasons given, the students indicated 
"family needs the money" only 5% of the time, and rarely was it 
given as the sole reason for working. On the other hand, the 
students indicated "wanted extra money (movies, clothes, etc.)" 
45% of the time and "wanted to make a major purchase (car, etc.)" 
28% of the time. Interestingly, 14% of the time students listed 
"saving for college" as a reason for working, but again very 
rarely was it listed as the sole reason for working or in tandem 
with "family needs the money." 

The solutions that students offered to the problem of 
dropping out were diverse — sometimes they seemed naive, 



sometimes they appeared quite cynical, but almost always they 
seemed sincere. Most of these proposed solutions came out of 
these non-dropouts 1 own experiences and were targeted at the 
school. The most common class of solutions for students was that 
school be made "less boring" or "more exciting," or that there be 
"more activities" or "more interesting classes." This type of 
answer was common from both high and low dropout schools, however 
it was more prevalent from high dropout schools (30% versus 20% of 
the solutions offered) . 

Another common call was for "teachers who care," again with 
high dropout school giving this solution more frequently (12% 
versus 9%) . Students at the low dropout schools were more likely 
to see a need for more counseling and guidance for dropouts (15% 
versus 11%) and more likely to see a need for home-school 
coordination (3% versus 0%) . At both high and low schools 
students saw a need for fewer and less restrictive rules. As many 
of them put it: "Treat us like adults" (6% and 7% of solutions 
offered) . A similar fraction of the students at high and low 
schools also thought that lowering academic standards (reducing 
credits needed, number of days or hours of school) would help 
lower dropout rates (9% of solutions offered at both schools) . An 
equal number of students at both high and low schools recommended 
raising the dropout age or making graduation required by law (7%) . 
Highlights from the survey of eleventh graders are presented 
on the next page, as Table 10. 



53 



Table 10: HTGHLIGHIS FRCM SURVEY OF STOESinS 



Students universally agreed that it is difficult to get a 
decent job without a high school diploma, and felt that their 
high school was preparing them to reach their goals 



Few students felt that "most dropouts were slow learners and 
disruptive students"; and less than half felt that "people 
without high school diplomas are looked down upon by society" 



Students at high dropout schools were more likely to agree that 
"a high school diploma and a G.E.D. are worth about the same" 



Students felt that the major causes for school drop out were 
pregnancy, alcohol and drug use, and work pressures; they did 
not see academic demands as a major problem for most dropouts 



57% of students surveyed from the high dropout schools worked 
outside of school, as compared to 45% of those from the low 
dropout schools 



9% of working students from high dropout schools worked 
40 hours or more, as compared to 6% of working students at 
schools with low dropout rates 



Economic necessity was not a major reason for working; most 
students worked for spending money (45%) or to make a major 
purchase (28%) such as a car 



More students from the high dropout schools (30% versus 20%) 
felt that school could be made more interesting for dropout 
prone students 



CHAPTER TEN 
SURVEY OF RECENT EKDPOUTS 

As a follow-up to the visits to each of the high schools, a 

telephone survey of recent dropouts and their parents was 

conducted to gain their perspective on the dropout problem. Using 

lists of dropouts compiled from referral forms gathered during the 

site visits to each of the high schools, letters were sent to the 

parents of about 20 dropouts from each of the schools informing 

them of the purposes of the study and that they would be receiving 

a telephone call in the next several weeks. The subsequent phone 

interviews, conducted over a four-day period, gathered information 

on when these former students dropped out, their ages and grade 

levels at the time, and whether they had dropped out before. The 

dropouts and their parents were asked about problems the dropouts 

had in school, about their work outside of school and whether that 

was a factor in their decision to drop out. The dropouts were 

asked about the decision itself: why they dropped out, who they 

talked to and how their parents reacted when they found out they 

had left school. Finally, they were asked about what they were 

doing now, how they felt now about their decision to leave school, 

and what they thought could have been done to keep them in school. 

A total of 61 dropouts and 76 parents of dropouts were 
contacted. Where possible, interviews were conducted with both 
the dropout and one parent or guardian. One subjective impression 
of the interviewers was that both the dropouts and their parents 
were generally cooperative. In contrast to the expectation that 

55 



had been created by the comments of school officials about 
apathetic parents of at-risk students, the parents that were 
interviewed were helpful and seemed to be genuinely concerned 
about their children and their decision to leave school. Rather 
than being indifferent, the parents frequently said they were 
uninformed and were caught by surprise when they found out how 
many days their children had missed from school. They often said 
they only found this out when they saw an end-of -semester report 
card or when the child was already approaching or had exceeded the 
maximum number of days he or she could miss and still pass. 
Frequently students said they dropped because they knew they 
couldn't finish the year without exceeding the attendance limit 
and thus automatically failing. 

An examination of the results of the survey revealed a 
number of commonalities among the dropouts at the high and low 
dropout rate schools and several interesting distinctions. At 
both high and low dropout rate schools, fully three-quarters of 
the dropouts indicated they did not talk to anyone at school about 
their decision before they actually dropped out. At both types of 
schools about half the dropouts said they were having some kind of 
problem in school before they dropped out. The reasons the 
students gave most frequently for dropping out were largely the 
same whether the students were from low or high dropout rate 
schools: wanting to go to work, just didn't like school, or had 
too many absences. 



Some key differences between high and lew dropout rate 
schools were, that at high dropout rate schools, dropouts left 
when they are younger (54% were 16 or younger compared to 24% at 
low dropout rate schools) and were more likely to have dropped out 
more than once (20% versus 11%) . Dropouts at the low dropout rate 
schools were more likely to have problems with academics (39% 
versus 33%) , especially the state competency exam (50% versus 
22%). 

Dropouts from the low dropout rate schools were also 
somewhat more likely to have been working while going to school 
(57% versus 50%) , especially those working full time or more (31% 
versus 17%) . The fraction working full time or more was 
particularly striking when compared to the figures from the survey 
of students in school where the percentages were much lower (6% 
and 9% respectively) . And while for both students in school and 
for dropouts, the majority were working because they wanted to 
(about 76% for both) , the dropouts were substantially more likely 
to be working because their family needed the money (20% versus 
5%) . The students from the low dropout rate schools were also 
somewhat more likely to volunteer that a job was part of the 
reason for leaving school (25% versus 16%) . For both high and low 
dropout rate schools, about half of the dropouts who worked 
thought their job interfered with school and said it was one 
reason they left school. Further, the students from the low 
dropout rate schools were more likely to be working now (67% 
versus 57%) and less likely to be in some type of alternative 
school or community college program (0% versus 15%) . 



57 



While there was a high degree of agreement given by dropouts 
from both high and low dropout rate schools that leaving school 
was a mistake, students from high dropout schools were more likely 
to think so (88% versus 72%) and less likely to say they would 
drop out again if they had it do over again (87% versus 59%) . 
And while at both high and low schools a great majority of the 
dropouts said they planned on going back to school to get their 
diploma or G.E.D. , the dropouts from high dropout schools were 
even more likely to say so (by a margin of 93% to 81%) . Overall, 
these results suggest many of these dropouts could be brought back 
into the school system if the proper opportunities were available. 

In association with these phone interviews, transcripts of 
these recent dropouts were reviewed. Names were removed by the 
schools, however, to protect the privacy of the students. The 
information provided was used for comparisons across schools to 
determine what, if any, correlations existed between grades, other 
measures of academic performance, and dropout rates. The most 
prevalent attribute detected from the transcripts was the number 
of absences. Many of the students who dropped out during the 
school year had missed 30-50% of the days of that school year. At 
the same time, transcripts of previous years for some of these 
same students indicated that many of them had received "good" or 
"average" grades when they attended classes regularly. 

The transcript data strongly suggested that marginal 
students were having a difficult time with the transition from 
middle or junior high school to senior high school. Of the 
transcripts provided, 41% of the recent dropouts had repeated 
either the 9th or 10th grade, while 13% had repeated the 9th grade 



repeated twice, or had repeated both the 9th and 10th grades. 
Both of the above-mentioned factors support the information 
gathered from interviews at the school and follow-up phone surveys 
with the students themselves. Differences across transcripts from 
high and low dropout schools were generally not detected. There 
were, however, more repeaters in high dropout schools among the 
dropouts with transcripts reviewed. 

Table 11, on the next page, summarizes the highlights from 
these interviews with recent dropouts and their parents. 



59 



Table 11: HTGHUGHES FROM SURVEY OF RECENT DRQPOOTS 



Recent dropouts, and particularly their parents, were very 
cooperative and articulate in discussing their situations 



Many parents admitted to being uninformed that their children 
were in danger of dropping out until it was too late to do much 
about it 



Reasons given most frequently for dropping out were related to 
work, not liking school, or too many absences 



Three-quarters of the dropouts claimed they did not talk to 
anyone at school about their decision prior to making it 



Dropouts from the high dropout schools left when they turned 16 
more frequently than those from low dropout schools (54% versus 
24%) 



Dropouts from the high dropout schools were less likely to be 
currently employed and more likely to be attending a community 
college or alternative school program than those from the low 
dropout schools 



Dropouts were more likely to have been working long hours just 
prior to dropping out than working students still in school; 
half indicated their job had been interfering with school 



Reviews of transcripts indicated large numbers of absences 
prior to dropping out and a large number of retentions in the 
9th and 10th grades 



There was a high degree of agreement that leaving school had 
been a mistake; a great majority of the recent dropouts 
indicated plans to return to school to get a diploma or a G.E.D. 



CHAPTER ELEVEN 
OBSERVATIONS AND CCNeXUSIONS 

The four high dropout schools included in the study were 
among the very highest in the state in dropout rate during the 
previous school year. The matching pairs of low dropout schools 
were among the very lowest in the state. To the extent that these 
extreme cases define the spectrum of high school contexts in the 
state with respect to dropout experience and dropout prevention 
measures, it can be concluded that the situation in North Carolina 
is promising and improving. State dropout statistics and site 
visits did not reveal the type of extreme dropout condition that 
has been reported in metropolitan areas of other states. District 
and building level administrators were sensitive to the issues 
surrounding dropout decisions and understood the types of programs 
and efforts that were required to bring the local dropout rates 
down to minimal levels. 

What distinguished the districts and schools with the low 
rates was a recent record of successes in keeping dropout prone 
students in schools, or getting recent dropouts to return to 
school, which in turn provided confidence to expand programs and 
services to sustain these accomplishments. Dropout prevention was 
no longer viewed as a separate initiative; rather, it was well 
integrated within the total service package available to the 
student body. At the high dropout schools and districts, 
administrators tended to view dropout prevention as another 

61 



problem area to be concerned about and were approaching it more or 
less in isolation from other district and school initiatives. 

The root solution to the problem of school dropout appears 
to lie in making each and every student feel attached in some 
tangible way to the school, to the extent that the student wants 
to move up through the grade levels, become a senior, and graduate 
with his or her class. Students who feel like "outsiders" and 
cannot find an avenue for academic, vocational, athletic, social 
or personal success within the school environment are prone to 
drop out when either offered a chance to be an accepted and 
successful "insider" somewhere else (at work or even hanging out 
with friends) or when some precipitating event at school or home 
drives a wedge between the student and school. 

Success in implementing this root solution appears to 
require one-to-one interplay, over extended periods, between a 
student with problems and an adult with the counseling abilities 
and resources to convince the student to remain a part of the 
school community. The low dropout schools had at least one 
individual who was almost compulsive in his or her desire to "not 
lose any kids," plus a strong and diverse network of counselors, 
administrators, teachers, staff, and outside supporters to call 
into play in response to the needs of particular students. 
Students with problems were made to feel that someone cared and 
that the school itself was sufficiently flexible to make necessary 
allowances to help the student to remain a student. 



62 



The age of sixteen was clearly a critical point in the 
dropout decisions of students. Not only is a student no longer 
legally required to remain in school, but the student is also now 
able to operate an automobile. For same students, the driver's 
license itself represents a "graduation" and an important step in 
disengaging from the school. A large number of the students 
surveyed and recent dropouts interviewed indicated that the desire 
to purchase and maintain a car was a primary factor in their 
decisions to find work. As the number of work hours increased, 
the amount of time devoted to study decreased. Many dropouts and 
dropout prone students found themselves in academic difficulty as 
a consequence of working. The local employers often needed this 
inexpensive labor and did not feel compelled to moderate the terms 
of employment so that the students could keep up with their 
studies. Two of the high dropout schools, in particular, felt 
that the pull to work, coupled with the pull to car ownership, 
were the principal explanations for their high dropout rates. 

The relationship between the school and parents of dropout 
prone students was less than adequate in all cases, both for high 
and low dropout schools. The high dropout schools were, however, 
more prone to point a finger of blame at the home situation; while 
the low dropout schools were more apt to admit that they needed to 
work harder to involve parents in problem-solving affecting their 
children. Inasmuch as poor attendance was a prime indicator of 
disengagement from school, the schools are clearly positioned to 
identify potential dropouts at an early enough stage to contact 
parents and seek their involvement. Many of the parents of recent 
dropouts who were interviewed would have welcomed this 

63 



solicitation from the school. A large number of these parents 
were caught by surprise when they learned how many days their 
children had missed from school or even that they had dropped out 
of school. An still larger number of recent dropouts had not 
found anyone in the school to talk with about their decision prior 
to having finalized it or having gone beyond the point of "no 
return" (failing classes or excessive absences) . 

Special education and vocational education programs contain 
a number of positive elements associated with keeping students in 
school through graduation. Classes are generally small enough to 
provide individualized attention. Materials can often be tailored 
to the basic skill levels of the students without diluting the 
content areas. The individual or individuals operating these 
programs usually see the students for more than one period each 
day, and for several courses during the years of school, and 
develop personal relationships with these students. This carries 
beyond the coursework into other problem areas which concern the 
students. Parents are frequently drawn upon for support, 
particularly in special education programs. Opportunities for 
individual success are greater in these programs than in the more 
competitive academic classes. The students are made to feel like 
"insiders" within the school community. 

The decision to drop out of school need not be viewed as 
irreversible. Many of the recent dropouts interviewed expressed a 
desire to return to the school to graduate or to attend the local 
community college. Several had already taken steps in this 
direction. Parents were clearly supportive of such action. The 
more successful extended day programs had opened a wide door to 

64 



recent dropouts, to bring them back to make up classes and earn 
credits for graduation. These programs represented themselves as 
integral components of the high school, not as isolated "evening 
schools" offering watered down curricula. The same teachers who 
taught in the regular program offered classes during the extended 
hours, and seemed to be enthusiastic about the successes they were 
gaining with students who had formerly found such courses too 
difficult for them. 

In conclusion, the low dropout schools appeared to be 
operating from a posture of confidence, having realized reductions 
in their dropout rates in recent years due to program enhancements 
and staff changes. This confidence permeated the entire school 
district, and was reflected in attitudes and statements of both 
district and building level administrators and staff. The high 
dropout schools, in contrast, were somewhat frustrated by the 
numbers of recent dropouts and were attempting to explain the 
situation by factors external to the secondary school environment, 
such as work pressures and social promotions from the lower 
grades. The district and building level administrators were not 
generally aware of what other more successful districts and 
schools were doing that was different from what they were doing. 
The low dropout schools were clearly in an action mode; the high 
dropout schools were not. 



65 



STUDY OF SCHOOL DROPOUT FACTORS 

IN THE SECONDARY SCHOOLS 

OF NORTH CAROLINA 



VOLUME 3 
POLICY ISSUES 



July 14, 1988 



PREPARED FOR 

JOINT LEGISLATIVE COMMISSION ON GOVERNMENTAL OPERATIONS 
OF THE NORTH CAROLINA GENERAL ASSEMBLY 




PREPARED BY 

Research and Evaluation Associates, Inc. 



1030 15th Street, N.W., Suite 750 

Washington, D.C. 20005 

(202) 842-2200 



100 Europa Drive, Suite 590 

Chapel Hill, N.C. 27514 

(919) 968-4961 



TABLE OF CONTENTS 



Preface i 

Introduction 1 

POLICY ISSUES: 

#1 Funding of In-School Suspension Programs 4 

#2 Preparation of District Dropout Prevention Plans ... 7 

#3 Reading and Mathematics Skills Remediation 10 

#4 Adequate Counseling Resources for At-risk Students . 13 

#5 The Critical Age of 16 16 

#6 Technical Assistance to High Dropout Schools .... 18 



PREFACE 



This report constitutes the third of three volumes prepared 
as part of the Study of School Dropout Factors in the Secondary 
Schools of North Carolina. The first volume is an edited 
collection of articles and papers dealing with the multiple 
factors affecting school dropout decisions, as perceived by a 
range of experts and scholars. The second volume contrasts four 
high schools, which were among those with the highest dropout 
rates in the state, with four high schools which, while matching 
in student demographics and school characteristics, were among 
those schools with the lowest dropout rates in the state. The 
purpose of this final volume is to identify those current 
policies, procedures, and practices that should be continued since 
they appear related to retention of students in secondary schools 
and those which should be discontinued or modified. 

Six policy issues were identified. These dealt with (1) the 
funding of in- school suspension programs, (2) the preparation of 
district dropout prevention plans, (3) the provision of reading 
and mathematics skills remediation, (4) the availability of 
counselors to work with at-risk students, (5) the state laws 
directly affecting sixteen year olds, and (6) the provision of 
technical assistance to schools with the highest dropout rates in 
the state. Each issue is briefly discussed, drawing on materials 
from the earlier volumes, and followed by sets of recommendations 
for discontinuing or modifying current state initiatives in 
support of dropout prevention efforts. 

The project team wishes to thank Joan Rose for her support 
as Contract Administrator in facilitating meetings and 
communications with members of the Joint Legislative Commission on 
Governmental Operations. 

Barry H. Kibel, Ph.D., Project Director 
Peggy A. Richmond, Ph.D. 
Gary D. Gaddy, Ph.D. 



INTRODUCTION 

Dropout prevention is an integral part of the Basic Education 
Program (BEP), a plan for excellence and equity in North 
Carolina's public schools. In 1985, the North Carolina General 
Assembly appropriated funds specifically for the development and 
expansion of dropout prevention programs in middle schools, junior 
high schools, and high schools. One in-school suspension position 
was funded at each secondary school having grades 9 and 10 or a 
12th grade. Additional funds were provided to staff additional 
dropout prevention measures on the basis of school membership. In 
the 1986-87 school year, increased funding was provided for a 
half-time job placement specialist in each secondary school in the 
state. 

The policy of the State Board of Education requires that 
dropout prevention be a part of the educational program of every 
local education agency. The Board has established the goal of 
reducing the dropout rate in every local education agency by one- 
half from 1985 to 1993. The Board has authorized and directed the 
staff of the Department of Public Education to develop and provide 
guidelines, standards, informational materials, and programs to 
support this statewide effort. 



Each school district must submit an annual system-wide plan 
for dropout prevention. The plan should reflect the use of state 
dropout prevention funds, Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA) 
funds, and other funds that are anticipated to be used during the 
fiscal year, as well as describing other efforts that do not 
require funding. Elements of the plan include a problem statement 
and needs assessment, goals and objectives, strategies arrayed on 
summary charts provided by the state, and an evaluation design. 

Through the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, 
two excellent resource documents have been made available to 
school districts in developing and improving their dropout 
prevention programs. These are Keeping Students In School: A 
Handbook For Dropout Prevention and Joining Hands: The Report of 
the Model Programs For Dropout Prevention . The Annual Report of 
the State Dropout Prevention Program provides additional useful 
material and data. In addition to these documents and the funding 
efforts listed above, the state has organized meetings in each of 
the education regions of the state to address dropout prevention 
issues, widely distributed brochures entitled Dropout Prevention 
in North Carolina , conducted program reviews and site visits to a 
small number of school districts, conducted a statewide Dropout 
Prevention Conference, sponsored a public service campaign on 
television stations across the state, and made numerous 
presentations to civic groups. 



Site visits conducted by the study team to eight high schools 
in North Carolina (refer to Volume 2) confirmed that these efforts 
clearly have had a positive impact. District and building-level 
administrators, program heads, teachers and staff were 
consistently articulate and informed concerning issues pertaining 
to school dropouts. Many exemplary programs and program 
components were in place. Schools were also beginning to reap the 
benefits from the administrative software package provided by the 
state, in terms of having ready access to attendance reports, 
student schedules, and grade reports. 

Still, there were major variations between the efforts 
underway at the four low dropout schools visited versus the four 
high dropout schools. These were discussed at length in Volume 2. 
The following set of six policy issues were developed to reflect 
these findings and to direct the Joint Legislative Commission on 
Governmental Operations to areas of potential high payoff in the 
state's continuing efforts to encourage students to remain in 
school through graduation. 



POLICY ISSUE #1 
FUNDING OF IN-SCHOOL SUSPENSION PROGRAMS 

Issue 

More than half of the state's dropout prevention funds are 
currently allocated for staffing in-school suspension programs. 
Given the operations and impact of these programs, is this an 
effective use for these funds? 

Discussion 

The stated purpose of the in-school suspension program is to 
provide opportunities for problem students to develop the degree 
of self-discipline required to take advantage of the school's 
academic program. It is viewed as a practical alternative to out- 
of-school suspension, designed to keep the students within the 
school context while being penalized for unacceptable behaviors. 
Elements of the in-school suspension program are to include the 
isolation of the student from normal school activities for a 
designated number of days, make-up and continuation of academic 
work assigned by the student's regular teachers, personal 
reflection, group and individual counseling, parent involvement, 
and follow-up to determine if appropriate adjustments in attitude 
and behavior have occurred. 



Despite clear guidelines and useful suggestions provided to 
school districts by the state ( In-school Suspension Program Guide , 
Department of Public Instruction, 1986), the visits to the eight 
high schools revealed wide variation in how in-school suspension 
was being implemented locally. Most of the heads of in-school 
suspension had no formal background or training in counseling or 
psychology and, at the high dropout schools in particular, 
counseling was used very little or not at all. Two of the high 
dropout schools had clearly punitive programs aimed at making it 
physically uncomfortable for the students. One program at a high 
dropout school was so supportive of suspended students that the 
program appeared to be viewed by students as a respite from 
classes, and there was a long waiting list to get into one of the 
available twelve seats. 

The programs at the low dropout schools tended to be more in 
the spirit of state guidelines, with emphasis on time-on-task and 
some counseling to examine the behaviors which had led to the 
suspension. Only two of these programs, however, attempted to use 
the time that students were suspended to cause a significant shift 
in these behaviors. One utilized a point system, whereby 
suspended students had to earn their way out of the program by 
appropriate behaviors. A second employed a lengthy self- 
diagnostic instrument coupled with group and individual counseling 
with a trained professional. 



A common observation from personnel at all levels was that 
while in-school suspension was a worthwhile tool for discipline, 
it was not the cornerstone of a dropout prevention program. Many 
of the students in the program were there for one or a combination 
of infractions which would not likely have led to out-of-school 
suspension; and most were not likely candidates to drop out of 
school. For the dropout prone student who was sent to in-school 
suspension, the program was seen as a stop-gap measure for some 
who might be on the road to dropping out of school, but rarely 
made the difference in the decision to leave school. 

Recommendations 

(1) Funds allocated for in-school suspension programs are at 
best playing a secondary role in reducing school dropout rates. 
Schools should either be given more discretion in how these funds 
are to be used for dropout prevention efforts or a different use 
for mandated funds, such as counseling support or special reading 
programs, should be considered. 

(2) To the extent that in-school suspension programs are 
supported through state funding, these need to be more closely 
regulated to insure adherence to guidelines and intent. Such 
regulation should include site visits and technical assistance, as 
required. 



POLICY ISSUE #2 
PREPARATION OF DISTRICT DROPOUT PREVENTION PLANS 

Issue 

District dropout prevention plans are being prepared in order 
to qualify for state dropout prevention funds. They are not 
stimulating building-level planning processes and related problem- 
solving efforts aimed at reducing school dropouts. What can be 
done to encourage more meaningful documents and processes? 

Discussion 

The state provides thoughtful and comprehensive guidelines to 
school districts in the preparation of their annual dropout 
prevention plans ( Annual Plan For Dropout Prevention , Department 
of Public Instruction, 1986). In fact, these guidelines are too 
good. The dropout prevention plans prepared by the districts were 
almost always extrapolated from the guidelines both in terms of 
format and content. There was very little to distinguish one 
district's plans from those of another district, as both were 
molded from the same template. 

In conducting the interviews, it became apparent that the 
district plan was viewed more as a necessary burden to obtain 
state funding than as a vehicle for tackling the problem of school 
dropouts. The chore of writing the plan was frequently assigned 



to one individual in the central office who was good at writing 
proposals; or the vocational education director was recruited for 
the task. In a few cases, school -level personnel were asked to 
participate in meetings devoted to plan preparation, to contribute 
sections, or to review the plan prior to submission. However, the 
majority of building-level administrators, counselors, and 
department heads admitted to having never seen the plan. Some who 
had seen it complained that it was a well-written document, but 
did not reflect the day-to-day realities of their schools or was 
simply a compilation of programs already underway. 

A planning document is valuable only if it reflects an on- 
going process of setting goals, solving problems, mobilizing 
resources, and implementing programs, coupled with evaluation and 
feedback. It is the process, not the document, which is of 
primary importance. In the case of the district dropout 
prevention plans, the reverse is the case. The process exists to 
produce the document; the document does not exist to guide and 
stimulate the process. Moreover, to the extent that there were 
differences in the quality of the documents prepared by the eight 
schools in the study, these differences were not reflected in 
either the comprehensiveness of programs at the schools nor in 
their successes in reducing dropout rates. 

Plans are most effective when written by those with the 
primary task of implementing their contents. In the case of 
dropout prevention, the school is a more appropriate planning 
level than the district. However, the compilation of programs and 

8 



staffing needs is no more appropriate at the building level than 
at the district level . 

A more substantive planning process would be one based on the 
development, by teachers and counselors, of personal education 
plans for each at-risk student at the school. Guidance would be 
provided by the state in defining which students require such 
plans. These plans need not be wordy and time consuming to 
prepare. A well -designed planning form, using checklists and 
short comments, would suffice in most instances. (A personal 
education plan (PEP) in this spirit is being required by the state 
as a part of the current BEP summer school program.) The plan 
would be reviewed and signed by a parent, who would be encouraged 
to identify activities he or she might undertake in support of the 
student. The school plan would be a compilation of the needs 
addressed in the individual student plans, translated into 
resource and program requirements. The district request for funds 
would be based on the school plans. 

Recommendations 

(1) The district dropout prevention plan should be replaced 
with a simplified form for use in applying for state dropout 
prevention funds. 

(2) The application for funds should be supported by school 
plans, which in turn are based on compilations of personal 
education plans and related needs of the students at the school. 



POLICY issue n 
READING AND MATHEMATICS SKILLS REMEDIATION 

Issue 

Students who drop out for academic reasons have major 
problems with reading comprehension and basic mathematical 
reasoning. These problems prevent them from actively 
participating in many classes at the high school. What should be 
done for these students to insure them a decent education? 

Discussion 

Virtually everyone interviewed at the eight high schools in 
the study, when asked to identify the reasons for academic failure 
by recent dropouts and dropout prone students, began by naming 
reading as the major deficiency, followed by weakness in basic 
mathematics skills. The common concern was that these students 
could not successfully read and understand text books written for 
the high school grade levels. As a result, they had struggled or 
failed in classes involving a significant amount of reading. 

These students could read the words in most cases (what 
teachers referred to as "word calling"), but they had major 
problems with comprehending and retaining what they were reading. 
Similarly, they often could manipulate the mathematical symbols to 
get an answer in a mechanical manner; but did not grasp the 
reasoning behind these operations. 

10 



Some students complained that there were simply too many 
subjects during the school day. Teachers added that these 
students needed to have their self-confidence bolstered. The 
universal request was for small class sizes to allow for 
individualized attention. It was stressed that a class size of 15 
was an absolute maximum for such classes to be effective. 
Students in special education, vocational education, and extended 
day programs benefited from these smaller classes, although 
teachers complained of a lack of good textbooks which covered high 
school content but at easier reading levels. Students who were 
not enrolled in special education programs, yet had major problems 
with reading and math, often could not perform to the levels 
demanded in social science and other classes where they were 
placed with stronger readers. 

Most district and building-level administrators, as well as 
teachers interviewed, called for early identification of students 
with basic skills deficiencies and for appropriate remediation. 
Such remediation is often required for extended periods. They 
complained of social promotions which were filling the high school 
ranks with students without the academic resources to succeed. 

Recommendations 

(1) Comprehensive learning centers should be established, 
as needed, at all schools and for all grade levels, to bring each 
student to competence in reading and mathematical comprehension. 
Placement into such centers would be triggered by results of a 

11 



state testing program; however, no student would be assigned to a 
center without the consent of a parent and, for secondary school 
students, the consent of the student. These would be total 
immersion programs, with small student-teacher ratios, wherein all 
subjects would be taught by one or more teachers trained to work 
with these students in a variety of learning modes. The state 
might wish to purchase or develop a program based on criterion 
referenced testing to insure standardization across schools and 
districts. 

(2) Textbooks covering high school materials, but written 
for middle school reading levels, should be made available to 
teachers in special education, vocational education, and extended 
day programs. 



12 



POLICY ISSUE #4 
ADEQUATE COUNSELING SERVICES FOR AT-RISK STUDENTS 

Issue 

School counselors spend considerable time performing 
administrative and clerical tasks at the expense of meaningful 
interaction with students. Too many students are dropping out of 
school before counselors are aware of problems or have time to 
offer viable alternatives. How can counseling time be found for 
working with dropout prone students? 

Discussion 

All administrators interviewed saw counseling as the backbone 
of any successful dropout prevention effort. The earlier that 
students with academic or other problems could be identified, 
counseled effectively and offered appropriate remediation, the 
greater was the chance that these students would remain in school, 
find sources for academic and social success, and graduate. Yet, 
a complaint among counselors interviewed, particularly those from 
the high dropout schools, was that they had extremely heavy 
administrative workloads that could preclude meaningful and 
sustained interaction with at-risk students requiring such 
attention. 



13 



These counselors estimated that at least half of their time 
was expended in chores such as administering tests, computing 
credits and grade point averages, writing letters of 
recommendation, and making course changes. Counselors admitted to 
spending a disproportionate share of their time focusing on the 
needs of college-bound students. Even when at-risk students were 
identified, through reviews of grade reports or absences, time was 
often not found to call in these students for one-on-one sessions. 
Three-quarters of the recent dropouts interviewed claimed that 
they had not discussed their decision to drop out with anyone from 
their school . 

Many persons interviewed felt that a full-time dropout 
prevention coordinator, with counseling background, was needed at 
each school to work with at-risk students and their parents. Some 
schools, particularly the ones with low dropout rates, reported 
that an important step had been taken when additional clerical 
support was found to relieve counselors of some of their 
administrative burdens, using local funds or volunteers. 

The full impact of the Student Information Management System 
(SIMS) had yet to be felt at most of the schools visited. When 
fully operational for scheduling and grade reporting, some of the 
clerical chores described by counselors will be routinely handled 
through this software package. A complementary forms processing 
package, customized for the requirements of school counselors, 
would further relieve counselors of some administrative burden and 
permit more time for interaction with students. 

14 



Recommendations 

(1) As an alternative to staff for in-school suspension 
programs, the state should offer an option of a full-time dropout 
prevention counselor to work with dropout prone students and 
interact with their parents. Schools should be permitted to 
request alternative options for this funding, such as increased 
clerical support for the guidance program or counselors and 
reading teachers for extended day programs. 

(2) Funds might also be provided for the purchase of 
inexpensive computers or terminals for use by counselors for forms 
processing and for accessing the SIMS database. A state-of-the- 
art software package specifically developed to facilitate 
administrative tasks required of school counselors might be made 
available to the schools. 



15 



POLICY ISSUE #5 
THE CRITICAL AGE OF 16 

Issue 

Students are required to attend school only until reaching 

the age of 16. They can obtain a driver's license at 16. The 

hours they may work is not limited once they reach age 16. The 

convergence of these factors contributes to raising the dropout 

rate in North Carolina. What can be done to improve the 
situation? 

Discussion 

The current study focused on school -related factors affecting 
dropout rates. Still, in conducting the site visits and follow-up 
interviews, it became clear that the sixteenth birthday was a 
critical point for many students. In the high dropout schools, 
more than half of the dropouts left school during their sixteenth 
year. For some students, the driver's license itself represented 
a "graduation" and an important step in disengaging from the 
school (and possibly also from a stressful home environment). The 
ability to obtain a driver's license prompted many students to 
seek work to purchase and support a vehicle. While state and 
federal laws limit the hours which teens aged 14 and 15 can work, 
no state laws apply to age 16 and older. 

16 



Many students surveyed and interviewed were found to work 
long hours and often late hours. Of the eleventh graders surveyed 
who were still in school, about half reported working. Of these 
working students, 67% worked 20 hours or more each week and about 
8% reported working 40 hours a week or more. Among recent 
dropouts, 57% reported working while attending school and almost a 
quarter of them reported working 40 hours a week or more. The 
reasons given for employment made it clear that economic necessity 
was not a common reason for students working. Wanting extra 
spending money and wanting to make a major purchase were the main 
reasons offered for working by students and recent dropouts. 
About half of the recent dropouts who worked thought their job 
interfered with school and said it was one reason they left 
school . 

Recommendations 

(1) The state should investigate the impact and 
repercussions of raising the mandatory attendance age. 

(2) The state should investigate the impact and 
repercussions of raising the legal driving age, as well as other 
options for restricting car usage for 16 year olds. 

(3) The state should consider placing restrictions on 
working hours and conditions of employment for students, including 
requiring that schools be notified and approve the terms of 
employment beyond certain minimum levels. 



17 



POLICY OPTION #6 
TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE TO HIGH DROPOUT SCHOOLS 

Issue 

Schools with extremely high dropout rates frequently are 
struggling on their own. Exemplary programs, models, guidelines, 
and expertise exist which could be used more effectively to aid 
such schools. How can the state provide technical assistance to 
these schools to help catalyze processes and initiate programs 
which will significantly reduce their dropout rates? 

Discussion 

The high dropout schools included in the study shared several 
features which suggest that appropriate technical assistance could 
make a significant difference in their abilities to reduce their 
dropout rates. School district and building-level administrators 
were articulate and generally aware of the issues pertaining to 
dropout causes and their required interventions. They indicated 
that dropout prevention was a high priority of their school 
district, that considerable attention had been focused on the 
problem, and that they would welcome any help they could get in 
dealing more effectively with the problem. While having several 
program elements in place, these schools had not demonstrated the 
resourcefulness of the low dropout schools in mobilizing 
individuals and funds to offer effective comprehensive programs. 

18 



Whereas low dropout schools were operating from a posture of 
confidence, having realized reductions in their dropout rates in 
recent years due to program enhancements and staff changes; the 
high dropout schools were somewhat frustrated by the numbers of 
recent dropouts and tended to explain the situation by factors 
external to the secondary school environment. The district and 
building-level administrators were not generally aware of what 
other more successful districts and schools were doing that was 
different from what they were doing. Successful efforts appear to 
be founded upon one-to-one interplay, over extended periods, 
between a student with problems and an adult with counseling 
abilities and resources to convince the student to remain a part 
of the school community. 

The state has developed excellent materials for guiding 
dropout prevention program efforts which have not been translated 
into operating programs at these high dropout schools as intended. 
More direct involvement by the state in effecting this translation 
is appropriate. Many excellent models exist throughout the state 
which can further stimulate thinking and action by the high 
dropout schools. High dropout schools need exposure to these 
models. 

Recommendations 

(1) The state, on an annual basis, should identify the 
twenty schools in the state with the highest dropout rates. These 
schools should be provided with technical assistance through (a) 
discussions and work sessions involving these schools in a 

19 



networked relationship, (b) trips by school administrators and 
staff to model programs in the state, (c) site visits to the 
schools by individuals knowledgeable in areas where the schools 
need help, and (d) external monitoring and feedback throughout the 
year. 

(2) Modest one-time grants should be made available to 
these schools to permit the purchase of materials or the hiring of 
temporary staff to move their dropout prevention programs forward. 
These grants should be linked to the technical assistance effort 
and the use of funds should be subject to review and approval by 
the state. 



20 



STUDY OF SCHOOL DROPOUT FACTORS 

IN THE SECONDARY SCHOOLS 

OF NORTH CAROLINA 



PRESENTATION OF 
PRELIMINARY FINDINGS 



MAY 26, 1988 



PREPARED FOR 

JOINT LEGISLATIVE COMMISSION ON GOVERNMENTAL OPERATIONS 
OF THE NORTH CAROLINA GENERAL ASSEMBLY 




PREPARED BY 

Research and Evaluation Associates, Inc. 



1030 15th Street, N.W., Suite 750 

Washington, D.C. 20005 

(202) 842-2200 



100 Europa Drive, Suite 590 

Chapel Hill, N.C. 27514 

(919) 968-4961 



AGENDA 








BACKGROUND TO STUDY 

LITERATURE REVIEW 

SELECTION OF SCHOOLS 
FOR SITE VISITS 

OBSERVATIONS FROM 8 CASE STUDIES 

PRELIMINARY POLICY IMPLICATIONS 




QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS 



PROJECT FLOW DIAGRAM 



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LITERATURE REVIEW 
CONSENSUS OF OPINION 



TL DROPPING OUT IS A GRADUAL PROCESS 
■ WITH MULTIPLE CONTRIBUTING FACTORS 






THERE ARE NO QUICK FIXES 
AND NO CURE-ALLS 

INGREDIENTS FOR SUCCESS INCLUDE: 

EARLY IDENTIFICATION 
STRONG COUNSELING COMPONENT 
CONSTANT MONITORING 
FLEXIBLE CURRICULA 
OPPORTUNITIES TO EXCEL 
RESPONSIVENESS TO NEEDS 
SCHOOLWIDE SUPPORT 



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SELECTION OF SCHOOLS 
FOR SITE VISITS 

HIGH DROPOUT SCHOOLS LOW DROPOUT SCHOOLS 




NOTE: SCHOOLS SELECTED BASED ON SAME CHARACTERISTICS 
YET MAXIMUM DIFFERENCE IN RANK OF W2 RATE 



CHARACTERISTICS OF PAIRED SCHOOLS 

H1 AND L1: 

PREDOMINANTLY BLACK, LOW INCOME, 
AROUND 1000 STUDENTS, GRADES 09-12 

H2 AND L2: 

70-30 ETHNIC MIX, 25% FREE/REDUCED LUNCH, 
AROUND 1200 STUDENTS, GRADES 10-12 



H3 AND L3: 



PREDOMINANTLY WHITE, RURAL AREA, 
AROUND 750 STUDENTS, GRADES 09-12 



H4 AND L4: 



60-40 ETHNIC MIX, CITY SCHOOLS, 
AROUND 800 STUDENTS, GRADES 10-12 



SITE VISITS 
INDIVIDUALS CONTACTED 

SCHOOL DISTRICT SUPERINTENDENT 
ASSISTANT SUPERINTENDENT FOR INSTRUCTION 



X DROPOUT PREVENTION COORDINATOR 



[X] HIGH SCHOOL PRINCIPAL 
[X] ASSISTANT PRINCIPALS 

HEAD OF COUNSELING DEPARTMENT 



HEAD OF ENGLISH DEPARTMENT 

HEAD OF VOCATIONAL EDUCATION DEPARTMENT 



HEAD OF SPECIAL EDUCATION DEPARTMENT 



HEAD OF IN-SCHOOL SUSPENSION PROGRAM 
HEAD OF ALTERNATIVE PROGRAMS 



STUDENTS IN 1 1TH GRADE (SURVEY) 
[X] STUDENTS IN IN-SCHOOL SUSPENSION 

□ RECENT SCHOOL DROPOUTS/PARENTS (PHONE) 



K 



OBSERVATIONS FROM 8 SITE VISITS 



(W) OBSERVATION *1: 

SUCCESSFUL PROGRAMS ADOPT 
A BROAD-STROKED APPROACH 
TO MEET NEEDS OF STUDENTS 

#) OBSERVATION *2: 
^ SUCCESSFUL SCHOOLS KEEP CLOSE 

TRACK OF DROPOUT PRONE STUDENTS 



OBSERVATION #3: 

SUCCESSFUL SCHOOLS KEEP 

IMPROVING AND EXTENDING 

THE SERVICES THEY OFFER STUDENTS 



OBSERVATIONS FROM 8 SITE VISITS 




#) OBSERVATIONS: 

^ IN-SCHOOL SUSPENSION EFFORT 
IS NOT BEING IMPLEMENTED 
UNIFORMLY ACROSS SCHOOLS 

$ OBSERVATION #5: 

DISTRICT DROPOUT PREVENTION PLANS 
GENERALLY ARE NOT EFFECTIVE 



OBSERVATION *6: 

REFERRAL SYSTEMS AND FOLLOW-UP 
ON RECENT DROPOUTS ARE NOT 
OPERATIVE IN MOST SCHOOLS 



M 




® 




OBSERVATIONS FROM 8 SITE VISITS 



OBSERVATION *7: 
STATE COMPETENCY EXAM IS NOT 
A MAJOR FACTOR IN STUDENT 
DROPOUT DECISION 

OBSERVATION *8: 

A SIGNIFICANT NUMBER OF HIGH SCHOOL 
STUDENTS CANNOT READ OR PERFORM 
MATH AT NECESSARY LEVELS 



# OBSERVATION #9: 

ACADEMIC/SCHOOL DIFFICULTIES 
SHOULD BE ADDRESSED MORE 
VIGOROUSLY AT LOWER GRADE LEVELS 



N 



) 



OBSERVATIONS FROM 8 SITE VISITS 



OBSERVATION* 10: 
PRESSURE ON STUDENTS TO WORK 
LONG HOURS AFTER SCHOOL CONFLICTS 
WITH ABILITY TO BE STUDENTS 

# OBSERVATION #11: 

EXTENDED DAY PROGRAMS, IF 
INTEGRATED WITH REGULAR PROGRAMS, 
CAN RECONCILE SCHOOL/WORK CONFLICT 



# OBSERVATION » 12: 

STRONG VOCATIONAL EDUCATION 
PROGRAMS CAN BE CORNERSTONES 
FOR DROPOUT PREVENTION EFFORTS 



OBSERVATIONS FROM 8 SITE VISITS 



;•) 



OBSERVATION #13: 

SUCCESSFUL SCHOOLS HAVE ONE PERSON 
WHOSE PRIMARY RESPONSIBILITY IS 
WORKING WITH HIGH RISK STUDENTS 

OBSERVATION #14: 
SUCCESSFUL SCHOOLS PROVIDE A 
NETWORK OF COUNSELORS 
TO MEET NEEDS OF STUDENTS 



* OBSERVATION #15: 

SUCCESSFUL SCHOOLS FOSTER 
AND MAINTAIN PARENT AWARENESS 
AND SUPPORT 




PRELIMINARY POLICY IMPLICATIONS 



Q RECOMMENDATION*!: 

A STATEWIDE INITIATIVE CAN BEST 
TACKLE THE DROPOUT PROBLEM 

O SOLUTION IS CLEAR, IMPLEMENTATION IS KEY 

O PATTERNED AFTER SIMS MODEL 

O COORDINATED BY SCHOOL-BASED COUNSELOR 

O STATEWIDE TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE PROVIDED 

O MODULAR DESIGN 

O CAN BE ADOPTED AT PACE THAT FITS SCHOOLS 
AND SCHOOL DISTRICTS 

O AUDIT COMPONENT 



Q 



PRELIMINARY POLICY IMPLICATIONS 



°Q" RECOMMENDATION #2: 

COMPREHENSIVE LEARNING CENTERS 
ARE NEEDED TO BRING EVERY STUDENT 
TO COMPETENCE IN READING AND MATH 

© REQUIRED FOR ALL GRADE LEVELS AT ALL SCHOOLS 

© ELIGIBILITY BASED ON TEST BATTERY 

Q PARENTS/STUDENTS MUST AGREE TO PLACEMENT 

O SUITABLE MATERIALS MUST BE DEVELOPED 
© BASED ON LOW STUDENT-TEACHER RATIOS 
O PROVIDED UNTIL CRITICAL THRESHOLDS ARE PASSED