NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


March 16, 2006

High school dropouts in the United States are becoming a national epidemic. While some students drop out because of significant academic challenges, most dropouts are students who could have, and believe they could have succeeded in school, according to a report by Civic Enterprises.

While reasons for dropouts vary, the general categories remain the same, whether in inner-city Los Angeles or suburban Nebraska, say the researchers:

  • Almost half said a major reason for dropping out was that classes were not interesting.
  • Close to 70 percent said they were not motivated or inspired to work hard.
  • About a third cited personal reasons, including getting a job to make money, becoming a parent or caring for a family member.
  • Some, although not a majority, said academic challenges, including "failing in school," being poorly prepared, and repeating grade levels were factors in dropping out.

As complex as individual circumstances may be, for almost all the people, dropping out of high school is not a sudden act, explain the researchers. Often it is helped along by:

  • Inattentive school officials,
  • Too much freedom and not enough rules, and
  • A low level of proactive parental involvement.

While there are no simple solutions to the dropout crisis, there are clearly "supports" that can be provided to improve students' chances of staying in school, say the researchers. Not only will it take fostering a more academic environment through better relationships at school and at home, but also serious reforms at the local, state and federal level to ensure that the voices of young people who dropped out of school will be heard.

Source: John M. Bridgeland, John J. DiIulio Jr. and Karen Burke Morison, "The Silent Epidemic," Civic Enterprises, in association with Peter D. Hart Research Associates, for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, March 2006.


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