March 2015: Portrait of a Dropout?
I am the child of a mother and father who “quit” school early. I contend that every situation leading up to students dropping out of school is different. Both of my parents who are 79 and 81 years old are brilliant and each had different experiences, yet similar experiences compared to students of today who quit school. There is no single portrait that can be painted to show specific factors that create dropouts from school. One of my parents quit school after getting married. The other parent quit school to take care of a sibling. Generally, as educators, we believe that there is a picture or specific factors that facilitate graduation from high school. Upon examination, we cannot say the same for students who do not graduate from high school. Students who are not successful academically as well as students who are successful academically sometimes have the same potential of dropping out of school.
What is a Dropout?
Why did I use the word “quit” in reference to dropping out of school? “Quit” signals the reader that the students have evaluated their options and feel that they must discontinue the current educational arrangement. The student at the time may not consider returning to school, or may feel that continuing school is not an option. Referring to a student as a dropout implies that there is something wrong with a person who does not graduate. The term dropout does not take into account the reason the student quits school. We treat the word dropout as though it has a common definition. Admittedly, there is a technical definition or definitions that are commonly thought of as accurately defining dropout. Risk factors have been identified that are thought of as creating dropouts. The circumstances that cause a student to drop out of school are sometimes drastically different from what we may imagine.
Declaring the success of educational systems throughout the country is elusive when we discuss and try to formulate solutions to the problem of students not completing school. Success may only be defined one student at a time. Despite monumental attempts to identify, prevent, and recover students who may potentially drop out of school or to reclaim students who have dropped out of school there remain students who do not return to school and graduate within acceptable time frames. The reasons students “quit” school or return to graduate cannot be painted with the stroke of a brush.
A partial list of reasons we have student dropouts include disengagement, poor academics, and the social problems of society. Students become disengaged from school or the educational process because their needs are not being addressed in the academic environment. Students who face academic difficulties have a gamut of reasons why they may not be successful. The social problems students face are beyond the ability of educators, families, or the governmental entities to resolve independently.
Reasons that students return to school include changes in life situations, recognizing the value of education, and acquisition or identification of required learning skills. Life situation changes may include improved support systems, increased levels of maturity, or (whether perceived or actual) decreased responsibility for others. Recognizing the value of education may materialize when students realize that employment opportunities are limited because they do not have diplomas from high school. Acquisition or identification of required learning skills may develop as the result of on the job training, formal classes that teach learning skills, or everyday life lessons.
More Questions than Answers
Will educational systems ever be equipped to handle the multitude of reasons that students quit attending school? Can we identify what is helpful or what may be a hindrance to what can be or will be done for students to prevent them from dropping out of school or returning to school if they have already dropped out? Until educators, families, and governmental entities find ways to work together to address the many reasons that students drop out of schools change may not happen anytime soon.
Can we increase awareness about the many reasons students stop attending school? Perhaps we can address the perception that there is something wrong with students who stop attending school? Can we examine how we currently address the needs of students who quit attending school for non-academic reasons? Are there dropouts or are there students who quit attending school? Let us acknowledge that there is not a single portrait of a dropout.
Author: Mary Whitt
For more information about Mary, please visit the “Guest Blogger” page.