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Chapter 1 – The Usual Suspects: What Do We Know Regarding Why Children Drop Out of School? | Dropouts 101

Chapter 1 – The Usual Suspects: What Do We Know Regarding Why Children Drop Out of School?

Currently, research regarding high school dropouts has centered on the identification and intervention of “at-risk” students with a propensity to drop out of school. Educational and community leaders, as well as policy makers, have incorporated available research and crafted numerous intervention programs and strategies targeted toward this audience. Unfortunately, many of these efforts have failed to demonstrate effectiveness.

The inability of educators, researchers, and program designers to effectively reduce the number of students dropping out of school may be grounded in their approach to understanding dropouts. More specifically, the driving force of research and dropout intervention programs has been tailored toward secondary education. Such a practice assumes an “educational vacuum” in a student’s life from kindergarten to the 8th grade. In reality, adolescents experience many factors outside the education system that influence their development.

Given these “Usual Suspects” (i.e., academic, behavioral, community, and family variables) and dropout prevention research studies that typically focus on comparing variables using cause-and-effect or comparison reasoning to understand high school dropouts, we decided to conduct a long-term study of the developmental pathways of dropouts and graduates at each grade level during their school careers across academic subjects/courses, grades, standardized tests, family factors, language, behavior, and county juvenile court information. Consequently, this study advanced what we know regarding high school dropouts by essentially contrasting dropouts’ and graduates’ entire academic, family, and behavioral history as listed in school and, in some cases, juvenile records.