Potential Drop Outs What Can Be Done

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A wave of reports the last few years has called new attention to low graduation rates among Americas high school students: Only seven in 10 ninth graders complete high school on time with a regular diploma, and among African-American and Latino students, the rate is closer to one half (Swanson, 2004). The number of high school drop-outs has increased dramatically over the years, which has led these individuals to a future full of struggles and consequences. I am certain that there are important measures to be taken by educators, parents and the community to help reduce the amount of drop-outs for future generations.

High school is a crucial part of the educational process for students because it prepares them for future decisions such as what college to attend and what profession they wish to enter. Each year, approximately 1.2 million students fail to graduate from high school, more than half of whom are from minority groups (Editorial Projects in Education, 2008). It is these statistics that put a fear into the minds of our future educators and parents because they are responsible for fixing the problem at hand so future generations can grow to be successful citizens of society.

There are different signs or characteristics that can be identified by parents and educators of students who drop-out. Various researchers have identified specific risk factors, such as low attendance or a failing grade, which can identify future dropouts-in some cases as early as sixth grade (Jerald, 2006). Other characteristics that are easily spotted include grade retention, frequent moves during high school, low attendance rate, signs of depression, and unusual behavior such as disrespecting staff members and teachers. Last year, several researchers studying the progress of Philadelphia students found that 50 percent of all eventual high school dropouts could be identified as early as sixth grade on the basis of just four educational indicators-low attendances, receiving a poor classroom behavior mark from one or more teachers, failing mathematics, or failing English. (Balfanz & Herzog, 2005)

Another study released last year found 81 percent of Chicago public high school freshmen who earn enough credits for promotion to 10th grade and also receive no more than one failing semester mark during ninth grade graduate on time from high school, compared with 22 percent of freshmen who do not achieve both of those things. Remarkably, those two indicators can be used to identify 85 percent of students who will eventually drop out of Chicago's public high schools. (Allensworth & Easton, 2005)

When researchers survey high school students and dropouts themselves, educational factors consistently come out on top as reasons for leaving school. For example, a federally funded 1990 survey found out of 21 possible reasons, 51 percent of dropouts reported "I didn't like school" and 44 percent indicated "I was failing" as their top reasons. A team of researchers who further analyzed the results found that "in each of the racial/ethnic as well as gender groups, school-related factors are the most cited reasons for dropping out." (Jordon, McPartland & Lara, J. 1999) A 2002 survey of the nation's high school students obtained similar results. When students who had ever considered dropping out of school were asked why, 76 percent said school was boring and 42 percent said they were not learning enough-responses that once again beat out a long list of other possibilities by a substantial margin. (Markow & Scheer, 2002)

It is important to identify the different reasons that students drop-out of high school. Some students drop-out because they are bored with school and feel that they can make money without finishing or they do not like the teachers or students where they attend. Others drop-out because they are failing, getting poor grades, or behind on school work and may result in summer school or repeating the class. Some students are given too much freedom and not enough rules in life which allows them to focus more on outside interests rather than their education.

Although students drop-out because of educational issues, it is also very common for students to drop-out because of family or social problems. In today's high schools, pregnancy and marriage are a big percentage of high school drop-outs along with drug and alcohol use. If the student's parents are not interested in education and do not support their children then it is a good possibility that the student will not be interested either. Family and social problems are a big concern for educators and administrators but these are certain factors that must be changed by the students and parents together.

Finishing high school is the start of a life long journey that leads to success and fortune but there are people that do not take it seriously. Some people believe that jobs are easily obtained without completing high school which can look like a quicker way into the workforce. Other families require their children to work because they are struggling financially which takes attention away from education. It is all of these reasons that promote high school students to drop-out. The question at hand is how do educators, parents, and communities help these future drop-outs to think otherwise and complete their diploma? One possible way is to inform all high school students of the consequences that surround the idea of dropping-out.

The consequences with dropping out of high school can have long-term effects on a student's future. Students who consider or follow through with dropping-out do not usually consider the future decisions that lie ahead of them. All those decisions he or she may think are acceptable for dropping out are actually very foolish and irresponsible. Staying in school is one of the most important things in a person's life, and it is the best choice anyone can make. For a student that drops out, the future they can look forward to include low paying jobs or no job at all, living paycheck to paycheck, possibly working two jobs to make ends meet, possible drug and alcohol use followed by jail time, and requiring state living assistance just to get by. Over the course of his or her lifetime, a high school dropout earns, on average, about $260,000 less than a high school graduate (Rouse, 2005).

Not only does dropping out effect the student but it can also affect the community and surrounding businesses. The community is affected by drop outs, especially when the rates are high. Such a community sees higher crime rates, especially delinquency and drug related crime. They may experience other high risk behaviors such as alcohol abuse, drug use, and sexual activity. Those communities with high drop-out rates may see a number of home foreclosures which can lead to a decrease in property value. The businesses of a community with high drop outs rates can also be affected. Businesses rely on their surrounding clients to keep business going. If those clients are unable to make ends meet at home then they are more likely to spend less at local businesses. Businesses also need skilled workers and if drop outs are unprepared for those jobs being offered then their number of skilled laborers decreases dramatically. These businesses may have higher costs, suffer lower profit margins, and ultimately relocate outside that region - denying an important job resource to that community.

In today's schools educators argue that their role as a student's teacher can have an impact on whether or not a student drops out of school. Some educators believe that the primary reason for dropping out originates from events and issues that happen outside of school doors. -As one school principal told a writer for the American School Board Journal, "If you want to know why some students drop out, look at their parents-they pass their low aspirations on to their kids." (Snyder, 2003)

Reasons for such beliefs originate from researchers that focus primarily on identifying the common personal or family factors of past and present high school drop-outs. Studies have shown that drop-outs are more likely to be poor, minority, male, come from a single-parent home with a parent that also dropped out of high school, or comes from a family where both parents have no interest in education or no time to be involved in the student's studies. However, while students with those characteristics are more likely to drop out, the most immediate causes documented for leaving school are educational. Recent research has found that both poor academic performance and educational disengagement are reliable predictors of whether students will leave high school without a diploma.

Two recent studies conducted by University of Michigan researcher Valerie Lee and colleagues found that, other things being equal, high schools that have enrollments lower than 1,500 students, better interpersonal relationships among students and staff, teachers who are more supportive of students, and a more focused, academically rigorous curriculum exhibit lower dropout rates. (Croninger & Lee, 2001) In other words, high schools that combine high challenge with high support tend to have better "holding power." The benefits of those strategies are especially great for low-achieving, low-income students. And the "school effect" can be quite strong: For example, high schools that have highly supportive teachers cut the probability of dropping out in half. (Croninger & Lee, 2001)

This research is not meant to say that the educators are to blame for the increasing drop-outs rates, but to show that the problems are being identified and researchers are working hard to find the characteristics and signs of future drop-outs. Educators and administrators can play a role in the idea of increasing graduation rates. Some schools and districts are implementing more targeted approaches to raising graduation rates to identify and assist students who are experiencing educational disengagement and academic failure that can lead to dropping out later on. Check & Connect, a program developed in the late 1990s by a group of University of Minnesota researchers and local educators with support from the U.S. Department of Education, has demonstrated promising results in several studies. Check & Connect relies on frequent, systematic monitoring of student warning signs-such as absenteeism or disciplinary problems-and timely interventions to produce gains in attendance, educational engagement, and ultimately graduation. (Lehr, Sinclair, & Christenson, 2004)

No matter if the issues start with the schools or with the parents, it is important for those students struggling to complete high school to get help. There are several things that can be done about these problems starting with the parent(s). It is a parent(s) responsibility to encourage their children to go to school and enjoy learning. Also the parent(s) need to stay involved with the educational process no matter how busy life can get. Although times can be tough and some parents are working two jobs to make ends meet, it is important to invest the much needed time into the education of our future leaders so they do not have to the hard times.

It is the educator's responsibility to make the learning process fun and exciting at all levels. No two student's may process information on the same level so it is important for educators to keep things fresh and up to date for those advanced students along with below-average students. Along with the educators and the parents, the government should play a vital role in promoting education. One way to do so is to offer more grants or scholarships to students that complete their degree in high school or college. By doing so, this will motivate student's to stay in school and not worry about the financial aspect of things. This will encourage students to stay at school rather than start working. Researchers have found that if the United States' likely dropouts from the Class of 2006 had graduated, the nation could have saved more than $17 billion in Medicaid and expenditures for uninsured health care over the course of those young people's lifetimes (Healthier and Wealthier, 2006).

The educators of today are responsible for educating the educators of tomorrow. Teachers should not assume that every student is excited about learning and wanting to graduate. Instead, teachers should start from scratch and help motivate students to enjoy the information being delivered on a personal level and not a group level. It is understandable that classrooms today have 20-30 students and teachers are pressed for time already but it is possible for educators to communicate with parents about areas they need to improve in and possibly find a tutor. I am certain that the odds of a student dropping out increase if the parents and the educators are not on the same page. Educators may not be able to fix the drop-out rate alone but they can make it easier for students to get help and move forward. Dropping out of school has negative repercussions for the student, his or her family, the business sector, and the entire community. In this regard it is important for parents, educators, and even the entire community to strive together to keep students in school and help students graduate. This is a crucial step that needs to be taken to help improve the quality of life for thousands of future students and families as well as for all of society.

With the number of high school drop-outs increasing dramatically for different reasons, many drop outs are facing hard times and lifelong consequences. There are different programs put in place to monitor these increasing rates, by researchers and educators, so characteristics and signs can be identified and hopefully be a way to bring these increasing rates to a stop. In order for these programs to work, it is important that all parties involved be willing to put forth the effort needed to make it successful. I am hopefully that high school students today are more aware of the importance of a diploma along with already working citizens. With the state of the economy, those without a high school diploma are having a hard time holding down jobs because of the number of layoffs. They are competing with those with diplomas and a college degree. The small amount of jobs available today either pay minimum wage or require a college degree. In order for students to make themselves marketable in the workforce, it is important for them to have an education. Getting an education is the key to a successful future. With an education people are able to hold down good paying jobs, compete in the job market, get promotions, and retire with ease. No one wants to live paycheck to paycheck and always wonder if things are ever going to change for the better. That is why it is up to the educators, parents, and communities to work together and help current high school students to understand the consequences behind this most important decision to stay in school.