Friends: The Hidden Dropout Prevention Heroes

What if one of the most effective tools in reducing dropouts is sitting right next to the student who needs help the most?


In a recent article from the BBC (January 17, 2017), Judith Burns cited an Arizona State University research study which concluded that “positive parental and friendship group influences are key to cutting drop-out rates.”

In concert with research we’ve known for some time, the Arizona State study concluded that “students’ academic achievement was directly related to the level of parental involvement more than any factors”.

Parental involvement remains the greatest predictor, but in this study, another factor was revealed. In their interviews with over 125 students in a school with a high drop out rate,  the study showed that parental influence began to wane if students had too much contact with other disaffected students. 

Let that sink in.  Perhaps you can say it like this:  if students who are likely to drop out spend an inordinate time around other students who are likely to drop out, even the positive influence of parental involvement might not be enough to keep them on pace to the graduation stage.

Did you just slink in your chair a little bit?  Because, you know that with great intentions we will pull a group of struggling kids… together… to help them with academic deficiencies.  We often think that this is a great plan, and for some it may be exactly the right plan.  But, if you aren’t graduating everybody, maybe this research is something you should consider.

Please don’t stop there and think I’m suggesting that we quit our efforts at remediation.  Far from it.  Instead of that, perhaps we need to consider how we group our students during the school day.  Are there times we can being students together and not only avoid negative influences but flip the field and provide an environment with higher expectations and a positive influence to succeed in school and graduate?


Norms are powerful.  They become the culture of an organization, a classroom, a school, even a community. It’s why it’s so important that we not give all of our attention to negative behaviors, but also to focus on the positive, productive behaviors.  We can influence the choices of others by keeping the focus on the behaviors that lead to the most successful outcomes.

So, let’s engage this amazing resource in our schools.  How can we do so?  By working on the climate and the culture, by being specific and explicit about success in school. By developing peer mentoring programs.  By just asking our students to join us in the effort to help everyone graduate.

Whenever we brought all of our students together as a class, we talked about what they needed to do as individuals, but we also talked about how important it was that they look out for each other.

From the very first time we had a class meet at our high school while eighth-graders, we asked them to sit together in the front of the auditorium, not skipping a single space.  From that first meeting, we shared with them that this is what they would do at graduation— sit together, side-by-side, not skipping a seat.  Every time they were asked to meet in the auditorium, it was the same.  After a couple of times, we didn’t even need to remind them; they knew the expectations.

We wanted our students to see themselves as responsible for themselves, but also responsible to the group as a whole.

We set a record for graduating students each and every year.

The involvement of parents is critical in student success; the influence of friends is the perfect complement to help our students succeed and graduate.





%d bloggers like this: