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Dropout Rates and Costs.....
Risk Factors for Dropping Out..
Achievement Gap Research....
Earlier Studies on School Dropouts


  1. Do Ronald Ferguson’s research findings surprise you or counter your understanding of the achievement gap? Explain.
  2. Ferguson’s findings indicate a key to changing the achievement gap is not to support homogeneous tracking, but to modify or change teacher attitudes and practices with students. Do your educational experiences provide evidence that teacher attitudes may or may not be a key to raising success rates for learning?
  3. How do you, a new classroom teacher, see your teaching practices supporting academic achievement by all of your students?

Four-Year Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rates by State and Subgroup, 2011-2012

For a new report calling for an end to high stakes testing in Massachusetts, see Twenty Years After Education Reform: Choosing a Path to Equity and Excellence for All

Dropout Rates and Costs

Dropout Rates (2013 figures)

Dropout Rates (2009 figures)
  • Nearly one student in three fails to get a high school diploma.
  • In the 50 largest cities, only one in two graduate on time.
  • Indianapolis has the lowest graduation rate: 30.5% graduate from high school.
  • Cleveland, Detriot, Milwaukee, Baltimore, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Columbus, and Nashville all less than 46% of their students.

Economic Impact of Dropping Out of School
Over a lifetime, a high school dropout earns:
  • $260,00 less than a high school graduate
  • $1 million less than a college graduate
  • To earn a decent wage (more than $35,000 annually), individuals will need a least some college education. The median annual income in 2007 for those with a high school diploma or less is $12,638

Risk Factors for Dropping Out of School (National Center for Dropout Prevention, Clemson University)

  • Learning disability or emotional disturbance

Early Adult Relationships
  • High number of work hours
  • Parenthood

Social Attitudes and Values
  • High risk peers
  • High risk social behavior
  • HIghly active social life

School Performance
  • Low academic achievement
  • Over age for grade in school

School Engagement
  • Poor attendance
  • Low aspirations
  • Lack of effort
  • Low commitment to school
  • No extracurricular activities

School Behavior
  • Frequent misbehavior
  • Early aggression

Family Background
  • Low socioeconomic standing
  • High family mobility
  • Low educational level of parents
  • Large number of siblings
  • Not living with both parents
  • Family disruption

Family Commitment to Education
  • Low educational expectations
  • Siblings who have dropped out
  • Low contact between family and school
  • Lack of conversations about school at home

Research on the Achievement Gap

Ronald Ferguson from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University has been a leading researcher of the achievement gap facing racially and ethnically diverse students in American public schools.

In an interview with the Journal of the National Staff Development Council (“We Care, Therefore They Learn,” Fall 2003, Vol. 24, No. 4, pp. 42-47), Ferguson discussed the results of a national survey of 40,000 middle and high school students about how they were experiencing school, what their achievement orientations were, what types of peer support or lack thereof they were experiencing, and how their responses might vary by race or ethnicity.

  • White, Black, Latino, and Asian students’ self-reports about their interest in their studies and the value of high achievement were very similar. All groups reported pretty uniform, moderate levels of interest in schoolwork and academic achievement.

  • There were no systematic differences in the amount of time students said they spent on their homework when controlled for course levels, except Asians who spent somewhat more time on homework.

  • Virtually no differences were found between groups on how interesting students reported their studies to be.

  • Important differences exist in levels of family background support. Half of Black students and one-third of Latino students lived with one parent compared to about 15 percent of White students. Black and Latino parents tended to have completed fewer years of schooling and those homes had fewer books and computers for children to access.

  • Almost 50% of the Blacks and Latinos reported that they completely understood half or less of what they were reading for school, and approximately the same percentage (half or less) of their teachers’ lessons. For White and Asian students, 25% to 30% understood half or less.

  • Black and Latino students self-report lower homework completion rates than White or Asian students. Since all students report interest in their studies, group differences in homework completion appear most related to gaps in skills and resources at home, not effort or time on task.

  • 15% to 20% of Blacks and Latinos, but only 5% to 10% percent of Whites and Asians agree with the statement, “My behavior in class sometimes annoys the teacher.” As a result, some teachers assume Black and Latino students do not work as hard or care as much about their studies as other students, a perception that is not supported by other findings in the study.

  • Differences between teacher encouragement versus teacher demands were important. 46% of Black students said they worked hard because their teachers encouraged them and only 16% indicated they did so because their teachers demanded it. 30% of White students said they worked hard because their teachers encouraged them, and 30% said they did because their teachers demanded it. That constitutes a 3 to 1 emphasis on encouragement compared to demand for Black students, compared to a roughly 1 to 1 ratio for Whites. Latinos were in the middle about 2 to 1; Asians it was 1.5 to 1.

  • Teachers who encourage students combine emotional support with instrumental assistance. Students say they find it encouraging when a teacher really spends time helping them understand instead of giving quick, incomplete answers that leave them still confused. There seem to be three encouraging themes: “YOU CAN DO THIS.” “I’M HERE TO HELP.” “I’M GOINGTO TAKE GREAT PLEASURE IN YOUR SUCCESS.”

  • Teacher demands are not successful without accompanying teacher encouragement. Students who are not encouraged simply see teacher demands as threats and power plays. Demands are perceived as threats when given by teachers who are seen as uncaring, but demands are seen as friendly when given by teachers who are seen as caring and encouraging. Teachers often believe that they have to lay down the law with students or threaten students to get them to do work, but this view leads to many demands and not enough encouragement.

For more on Ronald Ferguson's work, see the Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard University.

SAT score averages of college-bound seniors, by race/ethnicity: Selected years, 1986-87 through 2004-05
SAT score averages of college-bound seniors, by race/ethnicity: Selected years, 1986-87 through 2004-05
NPR's Week-End Edition Saturday has a report about mathematics learning from its math guy, Keith Devlin, describing why we all have a head for figures and how arithmetic is a gateway to algebra. Listen to this as part of considering the chart above.


USA Today: Teachers Are Key for Students Who Like Learning and Remain Curious


USA Today: Rural School Goes From Worst to Among Best in 3 Years


1. 2006 High School Survey of Student Engagement

2006 High School Survey of Student Engagement in Spring 2006, researchers at Indiana University published the results of a national survey of some 80,904 high school students. The survey looked at how engaged students were in school. Many other studies have shown that engaged students get more from school at every level than do their disengaged peers.

There was considerable evidence of negative attitudes about school among students:
o 56% of students surveyed said they put a great deal of effort into schoolwork
o 55% of students devote no more than 3 hours a week to class preparation
o 18% of college-track students did not take a math course during their last year in high school
o More than 20% of students spent at least 11 hours a week working for pay, watching television and socializing with friends.
o 36% of students were not involved in school athletics, clubs, student government, publications or other school-sponsored activities
o 50% said that their school places significant emphasis on treating students fairly.

By contrast, students’ positive attitudes toward school were highly correlated to coming to class prepared, participating in discussions, and getting prompt feedback from teachers. Noted the study authors: “Students indicating that they frequently received prompt feedback from teachers were more likely to report being challenged to do their best work at school and that their school work makes them curious to learn other things” (2006, p. 6). Half of students indicated that they never (9%) or only sometimes (41%) received prompt feedback from teachers on assignments or coursework.

2. 2008 High School Graduates and Dropouts in Massachusetts

Hispanic and African American high school students are less likely to graduate and more likely to drop-out of school than their White peers.
Across all racial/ethnic groups, boys are less likely to graduate and more likely to dropout than girls.
Hispanic males had the lowest graduation rate of any student group since the state started tracking this data three years ago. Just over half of the Hispanic males in the state who started high school in 2004, graduated four years later as compared to a state average of 81 percent.
Statistics released by the Massachusetts Department of Education and reported in The Boston Globe (February 6, 2009, p. B1).

Four-Year High School Graduation Rates

Asian girls 89.3% /-------------------------------------/ Asian boys 84.4%
White girls 89.3% /-------------------------------------/ White boys 84.1%
African American girls 74.2% /-----------------/ African American boys 62.7.%
Hispanic girls 64.4% /-----------------------------/ Hispanic boys 52.6%

Dropout Rates

Asian girls 5.4% /-------------------------------------/ Asian boys 7.3%
White girls 5.6% /-------------------------------------/ White boys 7.9%
African American girls 13.2% /-----------------/ African American boys 17.4%
Hispanic girls 21.1% /-----------------------------/ Hispanic boys 28%

3. Drop out Rates of Secondary Students

“Locating the Dropout Crisis,” a report released by the Johns Hopkins University Center for Social Organization of Schools in June 2004 found that nationally:
Nearly HALF of our nation’s African American students, nearly 40% of Latino students, and only 11% of white students attend high schools in which graduation is NOT the norm.

Between 1993 and 2002, the number of high schools with the lowest levels of success in promoting freshmen to senior status on time (a strong correlate of high dropout and low graduation rates) increased by 75%, compared with only an 8% increase in the total number of high schools.

There are currently between 900 and 1,000 high schools in the country in which graduating is at best a 50/50 proposition. In 2,000 high schools, a typical freshman class shrinks by 40% or more by the time the students reach their senior year. This represents nearly one in five regular or vocational high schools in the U.S. that enroll 300 or more students.

A majority minority high school is five times more likely to have weak promoting power (promote 50% or fewer freshmen to senior status on time) than a majority white school.

Poverty appears to be the key correlate of high schools with weak promoting power. Majority minority high schools with more resources (e.g., selective programs, higher per pupil expenditures, suburban location) successfully promote students to senior status at the same rate as majority white schools

The majority of high schools with weak promoting power are located in northern and western cities and throughout the southern states.
For the full report: http://www.csos.jhu.edu/tdhs/rsch/Locating_Dropouts.pdf

Similar patterns have been found in the graduation rates at four-year colleges.

2011 data from The Completion Shortfall, a report from the organization Complete College America.

“A Matter of Degrees: Improving Graduation Rates in Four-Year Colleges and Universities,” a 2004 report by the Education Trust, found “a large graduation rate gap between low-income and high-income students, and the majority of African American and Latino students don’t complete their degree within six years.”
Six Year College Graduation Rate:
Total Students 63%
Low-Income 54%
High-Income 77%
African American 46%
Latino 47%
White ` 67%
Men 59% Women 66%

High School Graduation

**See the report: High School Graduation Rate is Increasing**
  • Asian students have a 91-percent graduation rate
  • White students have an 81-percent graduation rate
  • African American, Native American, and Hispanic students disproportionately drop out, and graduation rates for students in those groups remain in the low 60s.

Black Males Still Lag in Graduation Rates, Report Says

The Schott Foundation for Public Education, which tracks the educational progress of black boys, plans to step up its efforts to see that graduation-rate gaps are closed”
http://www.otlstatereport.org/states shows state by state impact of low test scores.

For further information, you can access the full article online at: http://www.otlstatereport.org/

"Goals for black America not met"

2/28/2008 An article by Marisol Bello in the USA Today reports findings that blacks still lag behind whites significantly in income, education, and other measures of well-being.
The report finds:
  • The poverty gap between blacks and whites has narrowed since 1968 as the percentage of blacks in poverty dropped from 35% to 24%. Still, blacks are three times as likely as whites — and Hispanics twice as likely — to live in extreme poverty.
  • School integration has declined in the past two decades. Today, 27% of black students attend mostly white schools, up from 23% in 1968 but down from 37% during the 1980s.

For further information, you can access the full article online at: http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2008-02-28-kerner-commission_N.htm

2010 Reports Reveal Colleges with Biggest, Smallest Gaps in Minority Graduation Rates in the U.S.