If you listen carefully, you still can’t hear it. It’s the sound of
a third of high school students dropping out before receiving their
diploma. For people of color, the figure is almost 50 percent and that
has profound implications not only for the students, but for the
society that failed them.
“The Silent Epidemic: Perspectives of
High School Dropouts” is an important report on the dropout problem
told from the viewpoints of true experts – the students themselves. The
study, which focuses on polling and focus groups, is a joint project by
the Civic Enterprises and Peter D. Hart Research Associates for the
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
In 2003, about 3.5 million youth 16 to 25 did not have a high school diploma and were not enrolled in school.
report begins with “An Open Letter to the American People” that gets
directly to the point: “There is a high school dropout epidemic in
America. Each year, almost one third of all public high school students
– and nearly one half of all blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans –
fail to graduate from public high school with their class. Many of
these students abandon school with less than two years to complete
their high school education.”
And society has plenty of reasons to care.
decision to drop out is a dangerous one for the student,” the report
continued. “Dropouts are much more likely than their peers who graduate
to be unemployed, living in poverty, receiving public assistance, in
prison, on death row, unhealthy, divorced and single parents with
children who drop out from high school themselves.”
The report on this silent epidemic allows us to listen to what those who quit say about their predicament.
central message of this report is that while some students drop out
because of significant academic challenges, most dropouts are students
who could have, and believe they could have, succeeded in school,” the
study said. “This survey of young people who left high school without
graduating suggests that, despite career aspirations that require
education beyond high school and a majority having grades of C or
better, circumstances in students’ lives and an inadequate response to
those circumstances from the schools led to dropping out.”
tend to think of high school dropouts as being incapable of handling
the academic workload and there is some evidence that supports that
view. For example, 35 percent of those polled said “failing in school”
was a major factor in the decision to drop out. And 32 percent had
repeated a grade before dropping out.
Nearly half of the former
students – 47 percent – quit not because of the academic challenge, but
because they found classes uninteresting.
“These young people
reported being bored and disengaged from high school,” the report said.
“Almost as many (42 percent) spent time with people who were not
interested in school. These were among the top reasons selected by
those with high GPAs and by those who said they were motivated to work
An even larger number of students – 69 percent – said they
were not motivated or inspired to work hard. In fact, two-thirds said
they would have worked harder had it been required of them.
there were other real life factors that caused some students to drop
out. Approximately a third said they had to get a job and make more
money, 26 percent said they became a parent and 22 percent said they
had to care for a family member.
It became clear that the
decision to quit school was not a spur of the moment choice. Rather, it
was a culmination of growing disengagement and frequent absences from
There was also a significant number of students who fell
behind in the early years and never felt they caught up – or could
catch up – with their classmates.
Among the recommendations made in the report:
Provide a more supportive academic environment at school and at home
that would improve the student’s chances of remaining in school;
- Improve the teaching and curricular to make school more relevant and engaging;
- Offering tutoring and summer school for struggling students;
- Operate a more disciplined classroom;
- Make sure that students have a strong relationship with at least one adult in the school and
- Improve communication between parents and schools.
And parents need to improve their communication with their children.
majority of parents were ‘not aware’ or just ‘somewhat aware’ of their
child’s grades or that they were about to leave school,” the report
said. “Nearly half of the respondents said their parents’ work schedule
kept them from knowing more about what was happening at school and 68
percent said their parents got more involved when they became aware
their child was on the verge of dropping out.”
Clearly, we all need to be more involved.
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