School Dropout Rates
by James Morgan
In our society education plays a major role. Education opens doors to highly paid prestige jobs, to good healthcare, simply to better life. People from poor families are trying to get different scholarships to study at better schools or universities. And still there are a lot of people who do not want to study, the quit education, drop out of school. Let’s see why it is happening.
High school dropout rates (meaning of young people ages 16 to 24) slowly declined between 1972 and 2004, from 15 percent to a low of 10 percent in 2003. In 2004 the rate did not decrease but remained at the same level. In this statistics only those people were counted who did not finish high school and at the moment were not enrolled in high school or equivalent program.
Is dropout rate the same for both genders or it differs, does it depend on race, social status? What are the results of school dropouts?
2. Troubles with counting dropout rate
In different sources it is possible to find different dropout rates for the same year. How did it happen and why it is impossible to count exact level of dropouts? There are several ways to complete high school. Most students receive high school diploma. But some students choose other way and pass equivalency test in order to receive alternative documentation, one of them is General Educational Development (GED) certificate. One more way is to receive certificate of completion issued by the state, this certificate is given when a student achieves requirements other than those of the regular curriculum, such as attending school regularly for 12 years or passing a test specified by the state.
The problem is that usually school dropout rate is based only on students that receive simple high school diplomas. Those, who had chosen other ways to complete school and receive credentials, are not counted. This way we get false school dropout rates. And it is pretty hard to understand in which source which way of counting was used.
The next problem is that definition of a person to be called a dropout is not unique, and varies from state to state, from school to school. In some cases students who drop out over the summer, or who leave school to get married are not counted as dropouts, in other cases they are counted. Some schools follow up on students who do not return after the summer to determine whether or not they are enrolled in other schools, while other schools do not do that. This way some students could be counted twice, in result accuracy of the school dropout rate suffers. Also in some cases students enrolled in equivalent programs are not counted as dropouts, but some cases they are. This all makes counting of accurate school dropout rate very hard.
3. Types of dropout rates
U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) is responsible for calculating dropout rates. I say rates, because there are several types of dropout rates. The major 3 of them are:
- Event dropout rate: reflects the percentage of students who dropped out in a single year without completing high school
- Status dropout rate: reflects the percentage of the population in a given age range who had not finished high school or were not enrolled in school at one point in time
- Cohort dropout rate: reflects the percentage of a single group of students who drop out over time
Status rate is usually higher than event rate, because it reflects the number of students in a given age range who have quit of school over a number of years, on contrast to event rate that shows only 1 year. For example, event dropout rate for high schools for 1993 was 4.5 percent, while the 1993 status dropout rate for high schools was 11.0 percent.
4. Trends in dropout rates
Here are the trends for 3 major types of dropout rates:
- The status dropout rate for high school-aged students declined from 14.6 percent in 1972 to 11.0 percent in 1992 and 1993;
- The event dropout rate for high school-aged students declined from 6.1 percent in 1972 to 4.5 percent in 1993
- The cohort rate for high school-aged students in 1980 and dropped out between grades 10 and 12 was 11.4 percent, at the same time the cohort dropout rate for a comparable group of 1990 high school-aged students was 6.2 percent.
Although dropout rates are declining, this percentage still represents a huge number of people. In 1993 almost 3.4 million people ages 16-24 were high school dropouts.
One of the trends is that in general, school dropout rates are higher for minority students and students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Information from 1993 shows the following:
- Whites had 7.9% dropout rate, Blacks had 13.6% dropout rate and Hispanics had 27.5% dropout rate. These rates decreased to 7, 12 and 24 percents correspondingly.
- Students from families with a high family income level are less likely to drop school; therefore they represent only 2.7 percent of drops. At the same time students from families with a low family income level have 23.9% of drops.
The dropout rate is greater in cities than in other localities, and is highest in the West and South. It can be explained by the fact that there are more job opportunities in cities and students have bigger temptation to drop school in order to work.
5. Who is dropping out?
a. Differences by Race and Ethnicity.
Rates of school dropouts differ depending on the race and ethnicity. It has been proven that Black and Hispanic youth is more likely to drop school than non-Hispanic white people. For example in 2004 only 7 percent of non-Hispanic white people dropped school. At the same time 12% of Black youth and 24% of Hispanic youth did not finish their studies. High rate of dropouts by Hispanic youth can be explained by the extremely high number of immigrants in the age group 16-24, who never even attended American school. The lowest rate of dropouts belongs to the Asian youth: it was only 4% in 2004. (Child Trends Databank)
If we look at high school dropouts, in 2004 Hispanics accounted for 40 percent of all dropouts, even though they represent only 17% of all youth population.
In historical perspective, Whites had always had a lower dropout rate than Blacks or Hispanics. In 1980, for example, Whites had a dropout rate of 11.4%, Blacks had a dropout rate of 19.1% and Hispanics had a dropout rate of 35.2%. In 2001, Whites had already had a dropout rate of 7.3%, Blacks – of 10.9% and Hispanics – 27.0%. (Infoplease)
We see that from historical perspective dropout rate of Whites decreased almost 50%, dropout rate of Blacks decreased almost 50% too, but dropout rate of Hispanics decreased only 23%.
Rates for American Indians and Alaska Natives are quite high, while those for Asian-American students are quite low.
b. Differences by gender.
Study shows that on general males are more likely to drop out of school than females. In 2004 12% of males did not finish their studies at high school, comparing with only 9% of females in the same age group. Males constitute 50% of the population, but at the same time represent 57% of all the dropouts.
As we know, dropout rate was decreasing over some time. In 1960, overall dropout rate was 27.2%. But if wee look at gender, males had a dropout rate of 27.8%, while females had a dropout rate of 26.7%. So we see that the dropout rate was almost similar 45 years ago.
Later trend was that dropout rate was decreasing for both genders, and only since 1997 females had a dropout rate substantially less than males. This led to the situation we have today when females have 3% less in the dropout rate. (Child Trends Databank)
c. Differences by immigration status.
It has also been shown that school dropouts rate depends on the immigration status of the person. Students, that were foreign-born, had a dropout rate of 26% in 2004. At the same time, students who were born in the United States but in a foreign family, had a dropout rate of 17%. Both of these results are higher than the national average. Here situation is very similar with Hispanic population, as foreign-born students make up 28 percent of the dropout population while making up only 11% of the total population of the students. (Child Trends Databank)
Currently there are 11 million undocumented workers in the USA. Mexicans constitute the biggest part of the undocumented population or 57%, 23% are from other Latin countries, almost 10% are from Asia, 5% are from Europe and Canada and 5% are from different countries of the world.
There is a stereotype that mostly undocumented workers are men, this is not true as women represent 41% of all undocumented workers in the United States. There are approximately 4.5 million undocumented men (that are in labor force) and 3.2 million undocumented women. There are also 4.6 million children of undocumented workers in the United States. 3 million of them are U.S. citizens because they were born in the United States. And 1.6 million children are also undocumented immigrants. These 4.6 million children are not likely to go to school, as their parents would not want American government to know about their presence in the United States.
Almost 6 million of undocumented people are working, which represents a little over than 5% of working population in USA. All undocumented men are in labor force (are working), because most of them are young and less likely to be disabled, retired, or in school. But only 62% of undocumented women are in labor force. This happened because there are more undocumented women are of childbearing age, and undocumented women are more likely than U.S. citizens to have children and remain in the home. (Passel, 2004)
All these contributes to the fact that immigrants are more likely to work than to go to school, children of undocumented immigrants are not likely to go to school at all and men are more likely than women to work instead of studying. Immigration status also explains big percentage of dropouts among Hispanics.
6. Warning signs of dropping out and ways to prevent it
Our society can prevent dropping out if special attention will be paid to the students who are most likely to drop out. There are some groups of students who are at higher risk than others:
- Students in large cities are twice as likely to drop school as ones not from city.
- One quarter of Hispanic youth drop school and almost half of them leave by 8th grade
- More than 50% of the students who drop out leave by the tenth grade, 20% quit by the eighth grade, and 3% drop out by the fourth grade. It shows that high school is not the only place where students quit school, many leave before high school.
- Students who changed schools several times are at higher risk of dropping out, since 25% of people who dropped out changed schools.
- Students that failed some courses or were held back one grade are most likely to drop out. Statistics shows that half of dropouts failed courses.
- Students that regularly miss school or are late for classes are likely to drop out. Since more than 50% of dropout students regularly missed school or some particular classes.
- There are also students that did not want to quit school but were expelled. More than 15% of people who dropped school were told they couldn’t return.
- 12% of students who quit school simply ran away from home. (Focus Adolescent Services)
If parents, teachers and society pays more attention to these “risk” groups and educates those students on what it means to live without education, school dropout rates would decrease faster and more than they do now. Everything depends on the society and surrounding people of those students. We can
- help with missed work, hire tutor if student has bad achievements in some particular class
- help with personal problems
- educate youth on the responsibility of creating a family, of working, etc.
- encourage continuing education for those who already dropped out
There are also programs, such as Job Corps, YouthBuild USA, the Center for Employment Training, and the Youth Corps that help people who dropped out either to continue education or to find job.
7. No Child Left Behind Act
This act is an attempt of government to help schools to ensure that no child is left behind in the education and to decrease dropout rates.
This program increases funding of schools and gives more control and power over those resources. Teachers and principals now can spend more time with students, instead of filling out forms.
Schools are now accountable for the academic results and dropout rates, plus parents receive information every year on the school achievements and comparison of local schools.
Parents are now more involved in the teaching process and can draw teacher’s attention to the needs of their children, plus school now can offer free tutoring to those who needs it. (US Department of Education)
8. Reasons why youth dropout
a. Family or personal reasons.
Some students simply do not like the school, they do not like that they have to go there every day and do homework and that some parents get angry fro bad grades, etc. Some students like to make their own choice, and if school was not their choice – they drop it.
Some students do not like attitude of other students in school. For example seniors, may make fun of freshmen, etc. Therefore a person does not want to go to school only because of other people and drops it.
A lot of students want to support their families financially, or just want to earn money; therefore they drop school because of job. For some students school is too expensive and they decide to work in order to continue education in future.
Some students are pregnant or getting married, therefore they now have a lot of responsibilities and no time for school.
b. Academic reasons.
A lot of dropout students had certain problems with teachers or other school personnel. Therefore they could not study in that school. So these students either quit this school or go to another (they may be counted as dropout students) or do not wish to continue education at all.
A number of are expelled or suspended. These students believe that they will not make it in another school too, therefore they start working.
A huge problem is if student chooses wrong program and when there is no interest in learning, instead of changing program often student quits school.
Students with learning disabilities or non-English speaking students often can not find corresponding schools or programs and therefore are not enrolled in education at all.
9. Results of school dropouts
High school diploma is a necessary requirement for a post-secondary education. At the same time high school education is a requirement for most jobs, some jobs even demand post-secondary education. This is a reason why those who stop going to school in the end are unemployed and have fewer chances to find job than those with high school diplomas. Moreover, school dropouts will have lower income and lower social status, than those with a diploma.
But a study shows that a lot of people who dropped school will eventually come back to studies and some of them even continue education at a college or university. Statistics shows that 63% of those who dropped school will come back to studies within 8 years after they stopped going to school.
Statistics shows that those, who dropped school, are often low-skilled, live in poverty and rely on government assistance. Also, because of inability to find job, high school dropouts are more likely to become criminals or get involved in some criminal activity. Dropouts represent half of prison population. And also dropouts represent more than 50% of people on welfare.
Society has to get involved in the problem with school dropout rate, teachers have to guide students and help those with bad academic achievements, parents have to get involved with education process and draw teacher’s attention to the problems of a student. The fact that dropout rates are decreasing is great, but rates are decreasing too slow, and may stop to decrease. Problem with dropout rates of Hispanics and immigrants is still not solved. That’s why United States can not stop on what it achieved, but have to go on with educating students, teachers and parents. Everyone has a right to education; therefore everyone has to get it, we just have to make sure everyone realizes what education gives.
Child Trends Databank. High School Dropout Rates. 13 December 2005.
Focus Adolescent Services. Youth Who Drop Out. 11 December 2005.
Infoplease. High School Dropout Rates by Sex and Race/Ethnicity, 1960–2001. 12 December 2005.
National Institute on the Education of At-Risk Students. High School Dropout Rates. 12 December 2005.
Passel, Jeffrey. Undocumented Immigrants: Facts and Figures. 2004. 1 December, 2005
US Department of Education. Facts and Terms Every Parent Should Know About NCLB. 11 December 2005.
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