Reducing the High School Dropout Rate
The Annie E. Casey Foundation
Researchers use many different methods to calculate the high school dropout rate, and depending on the approach, the numbers can look very different. Using data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the KIDS COUNT Data Center reports the number and percentage of young people, ages 16 to 19, who are not enrolled in high school and are not high school graduates in a given year. Using this yardstick, in 2007, there were 1.2 million dropouts in the United States, and the nation’s dropout rate was 7 percent. Five states and 11 urban school districts have dropout rates that were 10 percent or higher.
Five strategies are essential for any plan designed to reduce the dropout rate.
- Adopt a long-term approach that begins with strengthening school readiness. Efforts to improve academic achievement and reduce the dropout rate need to begin long before children enter high school—or even middle school. Efforts to improve maternal and infant health and expand access to high-quality early education are part of a comprehensive dropout prevention plan. Children who struggle in elementary and middle school need intensive support.
- Enhance the holding power of schools, with an intensive focus on ninth grade. Many factors affect students’ decision to leave school including, disengagement from classroom instruction, not being promoted, behavior issues, high rates of absenteeism, and poor or failing grades in core subjects. Many students who decide to drop out are met with too little resistance from those in charge of their education.
- Focus on the forces outside of school that contribute to dropping out. These include physical or mental health issues and caretaking responsibilities at home. Many students lack appropriate clothes or shoes, a quiet place to do homework, money for books or a computer, or transportation to after-school activities.
- Address the needs of those groups at highest risk of dropping out. There was significant variation in the 2007 dropout rate across racial and ethnic groups: American Indians (12 percent), Hispanics (12 percent) and non-Hispanic blacks (8 percent) had higher dropout rates than non-Hispanic whites (5 percent) and Asians/Pacific Islanders (3 percent).
- Strengthen the skills and understanding of the adults who affect teens’ motivation and ability to stay in school. A caring adult can act as a personal anchor, helping high school students stay on track. The adults in a school community can mentor students, offer emotional support during hard times, or provide opportunities to pursue a special talent or interest. Adults often benefit from guidance and support as they take on these roles.
To read the whole indicator brief go to Reducing the High School Dropout Rate