18 Nov 2017

Winning the Fight Against the Staggering Dropout Rate Statistics One Student at A Time

When
you consider the “official” high school dropout rate in the U.S., it might not seem so bad at first; 6.5
percent of young people 1624
years old have dropped out, according to the National Center for Education
Statistics. However, you don’t have to look much closer to realize how very bad that number actually is. Or, to
recognize that finding a solution is critical for the future of not only students who’ve left school, but of the country as
well.
That seemingly “low” dropout rate equates to more than 1.2 million students who leave high school without finishing
every year, according to DoSomething.org. To put it another way, that’s 7,000 dropouts a day — one student every
26 seconds. And that “low” rate establishes the United States as 22nd out of 27 developed countries in terms of
graduation rates.
“In the most prosperous country in the world, we should be striving for a zero dropout rate,” says Larry Powell,
retired superintendent of Fresno County Office of Education in California. “The key to ensuring every student
graduates is to change the tactics the system is using to keep kids in school or get them back if they’ve dropped
out. We need to address the issues that impel kids to leave school in the first place.”
What’s driving the dropout rate?
Elizabeth Jaimes found out she was pregnant in her freshman year of high school. She didn’t want to leave school
in her sophomore year, but felt overwhelmed being a 15yearold
mother with a fulltime
class schedule.
Elizabeth’s situation is emblematic of a common issue that compels young people to leave school: unplanned
Elizabeth Jaimes found out she was pregnant in her freshman year of high school. She didn’t want to leave school
in her sophomore year, but felt overwhelmed being a 15yearold
mother with a fulltime
class schedule.
Elizabeth’s situation is emblematic of a common issue that compels young people to leave school: unplanned
pregnancy.
According to a report published in SAGE by researchers from Texas A&M University and the Michigan
Department of Education, pregnancy is one of the top familyrelated
reasons for dropping out. Other familyrelated
reasons include having to support their family or take care of a family member. Schoolrelated
reasons for
dropping out include missing too many school days, failing grades and not being able to keep up with the
schoolwork.
Those reasons are very different from the ones students cited decades ago, when researchers first began tracking
the factors that contributed to the dropout rate. For example, in 1955, the leading causes of dropping out were
marriage, a desire to work and dislike of school, according to the report, “Understanding Why Students Drop Out
of High School, According to Their Own Reports.”
Researchers differentiate dropout causes as “pull” and “push” factors. When students feel they can’t manage
something within the school environment, they’re “pushed” out of school. When factors from the student’s personal
life — such as childbirth or family needs — cause challenges, the student is “pulled out” of school.
“Successfully affecting the dropout rate requires a system that address both pull and push factors,” Powell says.
Solvable situations
In order for Elizabeth to be able to return to school, she required help in addressing basic needs for herself and her
infant daughter. Luckily, she lived near a Learn4Life center, one of 70 resource centers the nonprofit organization
operates in California. The program helped Elizabeth learn on her own schedule, at her own pace, so she could
manage being a mother and a student. She graduated in 2015 and is now pursuing a degree in nursing.
Learn4Life’s approach focuses on serving the most creditdeficient
population by supporting the whole student
with nonacademic
services like housing assistance, food, child care and more. Learn4Life operates under
California’s Alternative Schools Accountability Model program (ASAM) along with over 1,000 other district, county
and juvenile programs designed to offer credit recovery to the most disadvantaged students in the state.
Academically, the program centers on oneonone
instruction in a rigorous curriculum. Students work at their own
pace, which allows them the flexibility to accommodate both life and educational needs. They advance in the
program only when they’ve demonstrated their thorough understanding of subject matter. Intense instruction in life
and professional skills, such as communication and interviewing, and hard skills like proficiency in commonly used
software applications, aim to prepare students for personal and professional life after graduation.
To date, Learn4Life averages an 88 percent success rate, with approximately 33 percent of its students returning
to their school district, and 55 percent graduating or remaining enrolled at Learn4Life in pursuit of a high school
diploma.
“Learn4Life is breaking ground and making a difference with this program, but it doesn’t have to be unique,”
Powell says. “This type of program could be replicated across the country to help ensure every child can get a high
school diploma.” To learn more or to find a Learn4Life center in California, visit learnfourlife.org.