School, are we doing it wrong?

Issues and Factors of Drop-out

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Why do high school students drop out?

For many years the causes of students dropping out of high school were widely contributed to the socioeconomic norm of the communities in which the students and schools belonged. Is this the only reason for student drop-out? Studies have come to show that no this is not the only reason and other factors need to be considered when determine whether a student is destined to finish or drop-out of high school.


A study done by Wehlage in 1986 identified four key school characteristics that were closely related to the rates of high school drops outs. This study conducted over a five-year span identified school size, high school grade span, units of high school credit, and extracurricular activities as the key factors that played a role in a student’s decision to drop-out or remain in high school (Alspaugh, 1998).

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School Characteristics and High School Drop-out Rates

School Size: We have all learned or been told that the less students you have the easier it is to teach and get material across to the students. Wehlage found this to be true during the course of his study finding that the larger the school population, the more likely that the school was going to face a larger number of drop-outs within the high school system. Most public high schools in the Houston area consist of student populations well over a thousand, according to Wehlage this would then be conducive to a larger drop-out rate.


High School Grade Span: Contrary to popular belief schools with a wider range of grades contained within a school (7-12) have a smaller drop-out rate than those with less grades (10-12) (Alspaugh, 1998). One might ask themselves why this might be the case, but with a wider range of grades comes a wider range of intelligence and academic ability among the population of students. This enables students to be more likely to find a place to fit in and other students to relate to and enables more of a since of belonging within the confines of high schools walls.


Units of High School Credit: As many of you probably know the number of credit hours required of you will also determine whether you are willing to remain in high schools as well. Offering career oriented classes like shop and cosmetology allow for those students who do not see their fit within the confines of the academic requirements such as math and history are able to see their fit within the educational system. These programs also allow for specialized degree programs that allow them to take more classes in the area of interest and less within the subjects in which they might struggle.


Extracurricular Activities: In all honesty who does not like the opportunity to showcase their skills? Offering extracurricular activities that showcase student’s abilities or highlight student’s interest allow for student to become more interested in school. How one might ask? These activated allow for students to identify with other students while also becoming more involved within the schools walls. The students are more apt to try in their courses as they has a team relying on their success to be able to play at their next game. While it is not enough just to offer these programs Wehlage also warns that as student population within a school increase the number of activates needs to also increase for fear of not enough space or variety to satisfy student interests (Alspaugh, 1998).

Personal Experience

In my time as a high school students and teacher, guest teacher and student’s teacher in the high school setting for the past three years, I have seen a number of issues within the classroom itself they may also affect student performance. In my experience at Sam Houston Math, Science, Technology Center as most would expect student socioeconomic background and educational importance lead to a number of students acting out in class and struggling with understanding the importance of school. On the completely other end of the spectrum in my current experience with Kingwood High School in Humble ISD, students are self-motivated to complete assignments and seem to put more pressure on themselves to succeed as an expectation of their parents. On both ends those these factor lead students to push their limits and exasperate the school experience leading to falling grades and inevitable drop out. Students who over analyze or see no point in school not only hinder their own learning but also those of others and by trying to personally look at the finding of Wehlage we may be able to lessen the drop-out rate on both sides of the spectrum. See video below as to how we can fix this by just being there for our students and making them feel wanted and needed!

Rita Pierson: Every kid needs a champion