Reducing Dropouts Is Everyone’s Business

What do we do to reduce the number of dropouts?  Each year, young people make the decision to withdraw from school before they have earned a high school diploma.  The celebration of graduation is an event with many contributors, not just those at the high school.  When a student earns a diploma, it represents a personal achievement supported by elementary and middle school teachers, the community, the student’s family, and also support from the student’s friends.  While we don’t always think of it as such, each time a student graduates from high school, it’s a celebration of effort supported by a cast of hundreds.

It’s also the same when a student doesn’t earn a diploma.  Just as the high school shouldn’t garner all of the credit for every graduate, neither should they shoulder all of the blame for every dropout.  Blame is the least important part of this equation; the reality is that each dropout comes at a cost.  Not just for the individual, but the group of people who live within the community.  Graduates are a celebration for everyone; the entire community suffers when a young person drops out.

That’s not always how we approach the issue of dropouts, but nevertheless it’s a factual approach.  While we often develop strategies to help students throughout their high school years, factors away from school and in years prior to high school are predictive of the likelihood that an individual will graduate.

In other words, dropouts aren’t just something for the high school to address; dropping out of school is a much broader issue. 

Dr. Sandy Addis, the Executive Director of the National Dropout Prevention Center (NDPC), often shares this story about the nature of dropout prevention.  Addis was at a conference to speak about dropout prevention and he stood just outside the doorway of the room in which he was scheduled to present.  One of the attendees came past him in search of a breakout session to attend.  She asked Dr. Addis, “what session is going on in there?”  He replied to her that it was a time to talk about the Fifteen Effective Strategies to prevent dropouts.  The attendee looked back at him and say, “I work at an elementary school.  Thank goodness I don’t have to deal with that!”



We know that there are many reasons that an individual may drop out of school and it’s more than one school, one teacher, or one strategy should reasonably be expected to do alone.  Graduating from high school is a cumulative moment affected by many people.  In the absence of a critical part of the equation, however, the likelihood of graduation becomes less for those who are most at-risk.

That’s why every community, every school system should have a consolidated diploma plan.  The NDPC offers a two-day Diploma Planning Institute to support the work of teams to create exactly such a thing.  The process of planning is critical to raising the level of importance to a matter that, despite the rise in graduation rates, is not going away.  Each year students drop out of school in every community in our nation.  What might reduce that number?

Having a plan is an important piece in dropout reduction because each community has its own circumstances, its own context, and its own strengths and challenges that factor into the equation.  We’ll be looking more about those factors and how to build a successful plan throughout the remainder of this week here at Principal Matters!




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