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Obtaining a high school education in the 21st century is important. High school dropouts are confronted with serious disadvantages in the job market. The lack of achieving a high school diploma decreases the possibilities to advance into well paying positions or receive further education. According to the Institute of Educational Leadership, high school dropouts cost the country between 60 and 228 billion dollars a year in welfare, lost revenues, unemployment, and crime prevention (Santas, 2007). Therefore, it is essential to identify and understand the possible factors that may account for the greater risk of high school students dropping out.
Statement of Problem
Over the past decade, South Carolina is among one of the top five states with the lowest percentage of African-American students graduating with a high school diploma (Laird, & DeBell, 2006). This presents a critical issue because more African-Americans are without a high school diploma. This limits African-Americans to job opportunities as oppose to people with a high school diploma or a college degree. With few job opportunities, one may expect a higher crime rate in cities with a higher percentage of African-Americans dropouts. Without education, it is very difficult to make a living and the acquisition of money through crime may appear very tempting.
The researcher anticipates that the percentage of African-Americans that are satisfied with the learning environment is the best predictor to determine the graduation rate. One may speculate about the tactics that the South Carolina Board of Education and State Government agencies are doing to decrease the dropout rate. Standardized Tests and students' grade point averages are two factors that educators use to determine how one is performing in school. However, this does not indicate the various socioeconomic issues that maybe affecting African-American students' performance in school.
Purpose of the Study
The purpose of this study is to discover the possible socioeconomic factors that affect African-American dropout rates. The researcher's interest for this topic derives from attending a predominately African-American high school that was reported to have a high percentage of student dropouts. The researcher is interested if the percentage of African-American high school dropouts is a reflection of how stable the "outside community." 
Significance of the Study
The essence of this study is that the high school graduation rate is a significant representation of the weather or not the public school system is doing what is intended in regards to educating students to be productive members of society. The graduation rate serves as an indicator to explain the public school system because it shows the school climate and success of a school, district, and state. Students that earn a high school diploma have a greater chance of being accepted into post-secondary school and have the highest-paying jobs than students do that dropout.
Question 1: Does the high school graduation rate reflect the outside community (municipality/county)?
Question 2: What are the possible multiple socioeconomic variables that may prevent African Americans from graduating from high school?
In today's society, education can be viewed as the most important function of state and local governments (Weatherspoon, 2006). Previous research has shown that the nation as a whole, only about two-thirds of all students who enter 9th grade graduate with a regular diploma four years later (Morse & Melville, 2006). Research has shown that the national average freshman graduation rate in 2003-04 among public school students for the 48 reporting states and the District of Columbia was 75.0 percent. When the two missing states, New York and Wisconsin were added into the findings, the national rate was adjusted to an estimate of 74.3 percent (Laird, & DeBell, 2006).
According to Morse & Melville (2006), males tend to drop out somewhat more often than females. Often males and females reasons for dropping out vary. Young women most often dropped out because of pregnancy and academic difficulties. On the other hand, young men frequently dropped out because of behavioral problems or because they are seeking employment. Similar to other social problems, the pattern of school dropouts tends to reflect the economic and racial make-up of communities. Among all ethnicities, Hispanics, and American-Indian students have shown to present higher dropouts than Caucasian Americans.
A similar study suggests that large urban school districts, such as the ones in Chicago and New York, have an estimated 54% graduation rate. The racial groups included in the study were African American, Hispanics, Caucasian Americans, and Asian students. Among all four ethnic groups, African American students were reported to have a 39% graduation rate, which was the lowest among the ethnic groups. In a related study conducted in Baltimore, a representative sample of students were examined over their life time within the district's schools and many possible factors were found that were useful in predicting the risk of dropouts, including grade retention, low academic achievement, and family socioeconomic status (Bower, 2010).
Weatherspoon (2006) suggests that black males are more likely to repeat grades than white males. The rate of African-American males' graduate as valedictorians of their high school class tends to be relatively low. The failure of public schools to educate African-American males, starting in elementary school, may ultimately influence their high school graduation. With negative educational experience in turn affects one's employment abilities.
Other studies have found that dropouts are a drain on the economies of each state and the nation. Lower local, state, and national tax revenues are perhaps the most obvious consequences of higher dropout rates; even when dropouts are employed, they earn significantly lower wages than high school and college graduates. State and local economies suffer further when they have less-educated populaces, as they find it more difficult to attract new business investment. Simultaneously, these entities must spend more on social programs when their populations have lower educational levels (Alliance for Excellent Education, 2007).
The literature on students' lack of motivation to stay in school suggests that the decision to drop out is not based on a single factor or moment, but rather is the cumulative effect of multiple risk factors, influencing the student over a long period. For many districts, nationwide, early student dropout identification is critically important so that the district can potentially intervene early in a students' schooling career to help delay or prevent dropout. The use of teacher-assigned grades has frequently been identified as a useful variable in predicting student dropout. Essentially, students' cumulative grade point average (GPA) has been incorporated into multiple different prediction statistics, and at the high school level, low grades are moderately predictive of student dropout. In addition, another indicator of the graduation rate is receiving a failing grade in any course during the students high school years, increases the likelihood of a student dropping out of school. It was recently found that students who dropout, about 20% failed either mathematics or English at the Grade 6 level (Bower, 2010).
Santas (2007) examines socioeconomic status of the student's family that may account for the variation in dropout rates among schools. Dropout rates among students from low-income families are reported to be higher than those of their more affluent peers. He found compelling evidence that children living below poverty are at much higher risk of dropping out. In the same notion, he found that students from single-parent families, particularly those that are female-headed, tend to be at the highest risk. Another related study shown that income had the greatest effect on students living below the poverty level. However, once he added a variable for the mother's education, income became insignificant in determining the dropout rate.
Barton (2005) found that of those who fail to graduate with their peers, one-quarter eventually earned a diploma, one-quarter earned the GED, and about one-half did not earn a high school credential. Three-quarters of state prison inmates are dropouts, as well as 59% of federal inmates. In fact, high school dropouts are 3.5 times more likely than high school graduates to be incarcerated. Of all African American male dropouts in their early 30's, 52% have been imprisoned. Ninety percent of the 11,000 youth in adult detention facilities have no more than a 9th grade education.
Santas (2007) uses the absenteeism rate as a second attempt to help predict which students will drop out of high school. Students with high absenteeism rates were about 15 percent more likely to drop out of high school than other students. Moreover, Santas also found that participation in extracurricular activities such as sports or fine arts reduced the chances of dropping out of high school.
Another approach that education analysts use to determine the high school dropout rate is the school culture and school climate reports. School culture reflects the shared ideas, values, beliefs, and attitudes that give school districts its identity and standards for expected behaviors, which establish boundaries for each subdivision. These ideas are imbedded in the organization and operate unconsciously. They are so ingrained that they are often taken for granted. Understandings shared by teachers, staff, and students structure their responses to demands made from outside of the institution, for example by parents and the community, and inside the institution, for example the central administration and school boards and state and federal governments (Marshall, 2007).
The school climate is based on the patterns of people's experiences of school life; it reflects the norms, goals, values, interpersonal relationships, teaching, learning and leadership practices, and organizational structures that comprise school life. Empirical research shows that a sustainable, positive school climate reduces dropouts and fosters youth development and academic achievement, as well as the knowledge, skills and dispositions necessary for students to be responsible and productive members of society. Empirical research has also shown that when school members feel safe, valued, cared for, engaged and respected, learning measurably increases, and staff satisfaction and retention are enhanced (National School Climate, 2007).
As previously discussed, the focus of this study is to examine several possible social factors that may account for the reason why African-Americans are more prone to drop out of high school than Caucasian Americans. Among the several possible predictors, the researcher believes that the data suggests the percentage of satisfied students, parents, and teachers are with the learning environment, school-home relations, and social and physical environment as the best predictors to African American students' graduation rate.
Population and Sampling
In this study, the researcher uses African Americans that dropout of high school as the target population. The random sample consists of 46 out 296 public high schools in South Carolina. Each high school is coded in alphabetical order from one to 296. Then the numbers are generated from the random.org website. After the numbers was generated from the website, the researcher decodes the number that identifies the specific high school then jots down the random high school that would be used in the study. Finally, the 46 high schools are divided into five categorizes based upon the high school rating from the high school report cards, which are excellent, good, average, below average, and unsatisfactory.
Procedure and Time Frame
The objective is to collect secondary data from sources such as the state's census report and school report cards to gather data to generalize possible variables. With the collected data, the researcher then imports all the variables on to an Excel spreadsheet. The set of dependent variable are the random sample of high schools and the percentage of African-American dropouts respectively. The social factors will be discussed later in the analysis section. The given period to complete this study is 1-3 months.
There are no ethical limitations to this study. Since, the researcher is relying on secondary data; this project does not require approval from the Institutional Review Board for ethical concerns. There are no physical subjects or participants; therefore, no discomfort or distress will be discussed.
Averages of Independent Variables The researcher uses a multiple regression model with the African American students' high school dropout rate as the dependent variable. A multiple regression model is a statistical method that predicts values of one variable on the premise of two or more other variables. The model may project that African American high school students dropout rate as a reflection of how well the communities socioeconomic status and how the students, teachers, and parents perceive the high school according to the school climate reports. The school climate report is based on the patterns of people's experiences of school life; it mirrors the norms, goals, values, interpersonal relationships, teaching, learning and leadership practices, and organizational structures that comprise school life. Therefore, the researcher uses the percentages of students that met the South Carolina High School Assignment Program exit exam (HSAP) minimum requirement of average or better to graduate, persons age 25 or older with a high school diploma, and the evaluations of teachers, students, and parents based upon the results from the school climate survey as the independent variables. The three questions that the survey asks pertain to if they were satisfied with the learning environment, social and physical environment, and school-home relations. In the table below, are the mean averages of the independent variables from the reports of the 46 random high schools.
Among the possible predictors in the study, the HSAP exit exam is the only independent variable to be the most significant fit. The researcher's prediction that the school climate shown to have no effect on the African American graduation rate. The study indicates that the "outside community" is not an important factor as was believed in the hypotheses. The researcher suggests that one possible reason why African American students' performance on the HSAP exit exam is a reflection of their graduation rate is that schools are forced to focus their attention and resources on each student, including the ones that do not perform well on classroom assignments. The increased use of resources may encourage some students to earn their diplomas who otherwise would have dropped out. On the other hand, the other variables that indicate the school climate report may not have any effect on the African American students' graduation rate because of other factors such as how much time parents are able to spend to help their children achieve. In the same notion, the school climate report does not indicate the different teaching styles that are used in the classroom. The school climate also does not show how much the community invests on educational resources such as books, computers, and learning software. The next variable to be the closest to significance is the individuals 25 or older with a high school diploma; however, the result indicates it is not less than 0.10. This is surprising because the researcher felt that it is a reflection of how many African American students will graduate.
An important aspect of this study, readers may want to take under consideration is that the census does not account for what constitutes a city. For example, the census classifies rural as the territory outside of urban places. The census distinctions use a standard gradient of population density to create their urban boundaries. County-based signifiers tend to be used for analyzing and interpreting data aggregated to the county level. Since counties tend to be quite large, county-based classification schemes can over-generalize the populations living within counties. Moreover, in large counties there remains a distinct risk of overlooking rural populations, which means county-level classifications should be avoided when possible.
Benefits of Study
The researcher believes that this study is beneficial because it offers an opportunity for future researchers that are interested in this topic to examine the most significant variable and the least significant variables. Another reason why this study is beneficial is that it gives readers an idea of how an important role the exit exam is in determining the graduation rate. The researcher hopes that the stigma that is associated with African Americans low performance in the classroom will be eliminated and encourage a more positive approach to help African American students excel on High School exit exams.
Limitations of Study
There were several limitations to this project. First, the researcher preferred to use census information by school zip code in order to track the information of the neighborhood zone by high school; however, was only able to access information on a county level. The second limitation is that the information from the school climate is a collection of surveys only given to high school juniors. Another limitation is that the information from the 2009 school year, in comparison with information from the 2010 school year data may indicate other variables as contributing factors for the graduation rate.
In the near future, the researcher expects to use a larger sample size that would include all the high schools in South Carolina. The purpose of having a larger sample size is to gain a stronger estimation to analyze the trend of the African American graduation rate. Next, the researcher plans to compare the African American graduation rate other minority races such as Hispanics and Asian Americans. Finally, the next study will examine how effective each high school intervention programs (if any) are with helping increase the students' graduation rate.
This project demonstrates which possible predictors tend to have the closet relationship with the graduation rate. The findings reveal that the HSAP exit exam is the best indicator among the other possible independent variable. The information presented in this study may be beneficial to educators that analyze school report cards to assist with developing new ideas to help students prepare for future exit exams. Since the No Child Left Behind Act became in effect in 2001, schools are required to enforce supervision rules and to record the graduation rate. The data from the current study indicates that the African American graduation rate is about 71 percent. Therefore, more actions are needed to increase the African American graduation rate. The researcher believes this is an intriguing topic to pursue for future research projects because it shows the importance of how the exit exam is a critical factor in determining likelihood of the graduation rate among African American high school students.