Personal Stories Shed Light on the Dropout Rate

What is happening in the lives of teens who leave school?
What is happening in the lives of teens who leave school?

Motivational sound bites like “Dream it, do  it” and “No excuses” are more appropriate on the wall of a fitness club then as explanations of the character traits lacking in those who appear to just give up.  It is understandable that there isn’t  much sympathy for youth who leave school, after all it is by their own choice, and one may wonder, how much more difficult is high school compared to the real world? Dropout rates have been trending downward for decades, (7 percent in 2011, down from 12 percent in 1990), but the negative outcomes associated with not finishing high school are severe, including a higher risk for health problems, the inability to compete for jobs, a higher likelihood of criminal activity, and life-long poverty.  That list is not exactly an enticement to quit school.

To get a better understanding of why students leave high school, a national study was conducted by The Center for Promise at Tufts University. Based on interviews and surveys, the findings provide us with the personal stories behind absenteeism and/or class failure – considered the main predictors of dropping out along with behavioral problems.  Some of the conclusions from the report, Don’t Call them Dropouts:

  • There is not one factor that causes a student to stop attending school. It is almost always a “cluster” of situations and events, including homelessness, an incarcerated or ill parent, and a high rate of change regarding the child or family’s residence.  These concerns often make school a lower priority.
  • Make it easier to stay in school (or return) than to leave.  School district policies and procedures  may make dropping out the most logical, and certainly the easiest, choice.
  • Support for students facing problems at home, and in some cases in negative or dangerous school environments is helpful, but the need for family, church and community members to step up to guide these youth through personal crises is critical. These young people display outstanding coping skills on a daily basis, but need assistance to persevere with longer-term goals such as returning to school.

Multimedia resources and the complete report – including findings and recommendations – are available at



Photo Credit: M. Puzzanchera (Own Work) (CC By-NC-ND 3.0)