‘Tis the season! Caps and gowns, pomp and circumstance. Graduation is upon us, and schools across the nation are celebrating as students reach the end of their studies and complete a journey that began the day they walked through the doors of the building. As we celebrate with each graduate who walks across the stage, it’s difficult not to focus on those who may not be present. Which students are not walking across the stage? How many did we “leave behind”? Not only is graduation a milestone and ultimate success indicator for schools naturally, but it is also a success indicator used for state and national accountability plans. Needless to say, it matters—in more ways than one. So, we wonder and worry about those students who don’t make it to graduation day, and we seek interventions that will support more of them to achieve the milestone.
Research indicates that there is a plethora of factors that keep students from graduating. The National Dropout Prevention Center cites research from Doll, Eslami, and Walters (2013) that categorizes factors into “push” and “pull.” Factors exist that seem to “push” students out of schools. Among these are failing courses or the student not feeling like he/she could complete the work, missing too many days, getting into trouble or being expelled, did not get along with teacher or other students, and felt unsafe. Factors also exist that seem to “pull” students away from school. Some of these are the need to work to support family, having a child, getting married, or having to care for a family member.
Because of the varied reasons for dropping out, there is no one solution to the dropout problem. Schools must seek to address the needs of a wide range of potential push and pull factors that might lead students to dropout. The National Dropout Prevention Center outlines four overarching component areas in which schools need to think about dropout prevention strategies:
- Foundational Strategies
- Early Interventions
- Basic Core Strategies
- Managing and Improving Instruction
Schools must think about all of these areas over time. For example, foundational strategies include school-community collaboration related to dropout prevention, as well as developing a systematic approach to addressing the issue. Basic Core Strategies include interventions such as establishing a mentoring program and providing alternative paths to graduation, such as access to charter schools that have flexible scheduling for teen parents or those who are working. Early intervention strategies include addressing family engagement and early literacy. Finally, schools can improve instruction by looking for ways to make instruction more engaging, relevant, personalized, and meaningful to students in their current lives and as they move toward future goals.
Schools must work to redefine the “pull” factors—what can we do to “pull” students into school rather than pushing them away? Basic strategies such as providing alternate scheduling and assigning students to a caring adult mentor can go a long way. However, many schools have not yet begun to tap the potential of pulling students into school by actively engaging them in relevant, personalized learning. When students see the relevance of learning to their everyday lives and future goals, this creates a “pull” factor. How can schools make learning relevant to each unique student? Learning can be made more personal through leveraging technology to individualize the learning experience for each student so that what students are learning is more meaningful and engaging.
As you celebrate your graduates, take pride in their accomplishments and your role in their success. But, let’s not forget those students who were pushed or pulled away before they reached the goal. As we move into the new school year, let’s make plans to “pull” those students in with a focus on engaging, relevant lessons and a goal-oriented vision.
Doll, J. J., Eslami, Z., & Walters, L. (2013). Understanding Why Students Drop Out of High School, According to Their Own Reports. SAGE Open, 3
National Dropout Prevention Center. (n.d.). Fifteen Effective Strategies for Dropout Prevention. Clemson University. Available at: http://dropoutprevention.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/NDPCN15EffectiveStrategies.pdf
National Dropout Prevention Center. (n.d.). Why students drop out. Clemson University. Available at: http://dropoutprevention.org/resources/statistics/quick-facts/why-students-drop-out/