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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Dropping out is a process, studies find

Clemson center helps others fight low graduation rates
By Jay Smink/National Dropout Prevention Center
Monday, November 5, 2007

CLEMSON UNIVERSITY We know a lot about the school dropout issue.
We know why students drop out of school and when they tend to drop out. We know some groups who may be more likely to drop out than others. We also know what to do to reduce the dropout rate.

All across the nation, there are many successful early prevention programs, multiple intervention programs, and even recovery programs for students who have already left school without a high school diploma. The good news is not only do we know what works, but also that many schools and communities have committed to taking action and are having success.

A major misconception about dropouts, however, is that it results from a one-time decision, made by students during high school.

While it is true that most students do leave school between the eighth and 10th grades, a recent study from the National Dropout Prevention Center (NDPC) at Clemson University found that dropping out of school does not necessarily result from an isolated life-changing event occurring at age 17 or in the ninth grade.

Instead, dropping out of school is often the result of a long process of disengagement that may begin before a child enters school. In fact, dropping out is often described as a process, not an event, with factors building and compounding over time. And, the more risk factors a child faces, the more likely they are to drop out.

These factors fall into four categories student, family, school, and the community. The NDPC study found that the student risk factors of poor attendance, low achievement, and being overage for grade increased the risk for dropping out of school. High family mobility patterns and low parent expectations were among the family factors found to impact the dropout.

Other research has found that school factors such as grade retention policies or large class sizes with high-risk students impact the dropout. Community factors include low levels of funding for schools, fewer supportive programs like mentoring, and low community emphasis on academic achievement and getting a high school diploma.

Knowing what to do are the questions most asked by school and community leaders. The most effective school and community programs identified in the NDPC risk factors study often used some combination of personal assets and skill building, academic support for struggling students, family outreach programs, and organizational changes in the schools.

Parents can help by staying in touch with their children’s teachers on a regular basis, not just on the parent-teacher conference day. Parents need to monitor their child’s attendance, talk to them often about what is happening at school, provide positive messages about the value of education, and have high expectations for their child’s achievements.

Community leaders can serve on school-community advisory and planning teams, create mentoring programs, provide job internships, provide after-school programs, and design and deliver recreational programs that are integrated with learning opportunities in the schools. And lastly, business and community leaders must actively understand the school dropout issue and be part of the solution because when a student drops out of school, they tend to drop into trouble in the community and societal costs are increased.

The opportunities for all of us to get involved in the educational process of our children are endless but the message is clearpay now with active involvement with children, or pay much more later in real dollars for prison or other societal costs. The choice is ours!

Jay Smink is executive director of the National Dropout Prevention Center at Clemson University. He wrote this for the Anderson Independent-Mail.

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