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New Brief Addresses Causes, Prevention of Dropping Out

No single factor, Mathis notes, explains or predicts dropping out; instead, the National Dropout Prevention Center has identified no fewer than 25 significant predictors, with the presence of three or more factors putting a student at risk. Low socioeconomic status, low parental educational level, family disruption, high-risk peer groups, low achievement, and poor attendance are just some of the risk factors.
Examining the research, Mathis notes that some dropout prevention strategies have found little support in research, including two that are common in many districts: elaborate data collection and analysis as well as behavior and social skills programs for older (rather than younger) students.
Other approaches and programs have shown success. These include academic support and enrichment for students at risk of dropping out; assigning adult advocates to at-risk students, while taking care to ensure those advocates have low caseloads and are well-matched to their individual students; the creation of personalized and supportive learning environments; and instruction that is rigorous and directly relevant to the student’s post-high-school options.
The brief stresses that the majority of dropout risk factors are centered outside the school, and it accordingly recommends strong coordination between schools, and social and health agencies. “Multiple risk factors must be addressed with multiple strategies,” Mathis writes.
He also recommends implementing high-quality early education programs, which have been shown to reduce dropout rates; training educators to spot and report a wide range of dropout warning signs; and passing laws requiring students to attend school until age 18 or graduation.
Just as importantly, Mathis urges the revocation and avoidance of policies that encourage dropping out, such as grade retention, high school exit examinations, and out-of-school suspensions for minor offences. He also argues that “great care should be taken in the design of any school accountability system that incorporates drop-out rates.” To do otherwise would hold schools “responsible for matters that are not within their control and for which the policymakers themselves do not provide adequate resources to resolve.”
The fifth in a series of briefs summarizing education policy research advises policymakers on how to decrease dropout rates. The brief is written by Dr. William Mathis, managing director of the National Education Policy Center, housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education. The three-page brief is part of Research-Based Options for Education Policymaking, a multipart brief that takes up a number of important policy issues and identifies policies supported by research. Each section focuses on a different issue, and its recommendations to policymakers are based on the latest scholarship.
The brief is made possible in part by support provided by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.
Find William Mathis’s brief on the NEPC website at:


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