Why aren’t high school students graduating? New report sheds light

BY Elizabeth Jones  May 20, 2014 at 3:34 PM EST
Twenty percent of students leave high school without graduating according to a report released today from GradNation, a campaign of America’s Promise Alliance. But why? Photo by Flickr user Milken Community Schools

Twenty percent of students leave high school without graduating according to a report released today from GradNation, a campaign of America’s Promise Alliance. But why? Photo by Flickr user Milken Community Schools

While a report released earlier this year shows the U.S. has reached a record milestone achievement of an 80 percent graduation rate, GradNation and The Center for Promise at Tufts University set out to understand why young people leave high school before graduation, investigating experiences that lead them astray in a new report released today.

After reviewing the findings, GradNation decided to drop the term “dropout” from the education conversation for two reasons.

“First, we heard from young people themselves that this term does not describe their experience of leaving school,” read the report. “Second, most of the interview participants and survey respondents had returned to school or re-engagement programs to complete their education.”

Participants gave a number of reasons and factors contributing to their decisions to leave school, mostly due to circumstances and environments not conducive to learning.

Such factors include absent parents, violence close to home and school, negative peer influences and gangs, the responsibilities of being caregivers, incarceration as well as health trauma and death in the family.

According to the report, 30 percent of participants said abuse was a major factor in their decision to leave high school–22 percent said homelessness and 18 percent said spending time in juvenile detention.

Additionally, participants said school policies that create unsafe, unsupportive, or disrespectful school climates also contributed to their decisions to leave.

Zero-tolerance policies, for example, were denounced earlier this year by the Obama Administration and the Department of Education.

“When carried out in connection with zero-tolerance policies, such practices can erode trust between students and school staff, and undermine efforts to create the positive school climates needed to engage students in a well-rounded and rigorous curriculum,” said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in a letter to colleagues about fostering supportive and safe school climates.

Furthermore, the presence or absence of adult and professional connections drove many of the choices that young people made, including decisions about school attendance and completion.

Read the report hereto learn more about why young people leave high school before graduating or follow the hashtag #NotDropouts on Twitter.