Dropping out of school is a process, not an event, study says

CLEMSON, S.C. – It takes more than a day to drop out of school. It also takes more than a day to prevent it.

A new study of the best research on dropout prevention shows that a single event rarely causes a child to drop out of school. Dropping out almost always is the result of a long process of disengagement that sometimes begins before the child enrolls in kindergarten.

Just as the reasons can be multiple, so are the solutions, according to a new study sponsored by Communities In Schools Inc. (CIS) and conducted with the National Dropout Prevention Center (NDPC) at Clemson University.

The study, Dropout Risk Factors and Exemplary Programs, finds that dropping out of school is related to a variety of factors in four domains: individual, family, school and community. The study focused on individual and family factors.

“There is no single risk factor that can accurately predict if a student will drop out, but there are 25 significant risk factors in the individual and family domains,” said Jay Smink, executive director of the NDPC. “The more risk factors that become evident for a student, the greater the likelihood that student will eventually drop out of school.”

Many of the risk factors start in elementary school, some before. That is an important finding, according to contributing author Dan Linton, director of research and evaluation for CIS. Approximately half of the 3,000-plus sites where CIS operates are elementary schools.

“Children of low socioeconomic status are particularly at risk, and if you add low achievement, poor attendance and being too old for the grade, the risk increases dramatically and the student will not likely graduate,” Smink said. “You can take those four factors to the bank.”

Some of the risk factors don’t sound so obvious. Students who work a lot of hours, have a large number of siblings or too many interests outside of school are at increased risk, according to the study. So are students whose families don’t talk much about school. The good news, according to Linton, is that there are effective programs for battling America’s dropout challenge.

“CIS connects students to programs and services to help them successfully stay in school, learn and prepare for life. A key goal of the study was to identify programs found to be highly effective in addressing the risk factors. This initial research identified 50 programs that CIS affiliates may incorporate into their offerings,” Linton said.

Many of the programs reflect 15 successful strategies identified by the NDPC in previous research.

The list of programs is posted with the entire Dropout Risk Factors and Exemplary Programs report at both the NDPC and CIS Web sites.

The study was completed by Cathy Hammond, research associate for the NDPC/Network, with contributions from Smink and Sam Drew of NPDC/Network and Linton of CIS.

The National Dropout Prevention Center/Network, established at Clemson University in 1986, is a national resource for sharing solutions for student success through its clearinghouse function, active research projects, publications and professional development activities.

Communities In Schools is the nation’s largest dropout prevention organization, working in more than 3,200 K-12 public schools. Founded in 1977, CIS is headquartered in Alexandria, Va. Nearly 1 million young people every year receive direct services through more than 200 CIS local affiliates in 27 states and the District of Columbia.  Between 80 and 90 percent of the tracked students show improvement in academic achievement, attendance, behavior and promotion to the next grade level.


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