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WHY DROPOUTS? United Way Leads Efforts to Research, Address Problem

February 16, 2018       Leave a Comment
By: Dave Rogers

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United Way of Stanislaus County, California, helped these two smiling high school graduates.

Why did Stanislaus County, (Modesto) California, have a high school dropout rate of 25 percent?

That startling fact prompted United Way of Stanislaus County to further research the issue of high school dropout.

The high school dropout issue also plagues Michigan, with a statewide dropout rate of just over 20 percent. However, the state and many private organizations are making efforts to address the dropout problem and perhaps influence the culture that exacerbates the problem.

United Way of Stanislaus County made an informed decision align with United Way Worldwide's Education Focus Area. In support of United Way Worldwide's goal to decrease the national dropout rate, United Way of Stanislaus County adopted the goal of increasing the graduation rate in Stanislaus County.

Demonstrating the persistence of the problem is the fact that after nearly five years of work, the dropout rate for Stanislaus County remains at 22 percent, according to the American Community Survey.
  • The United Way's research showed if parents are engaged early in the child's educational career the child is more likely to be successful in school. The parent's interest and investment in their child's education show the child that education is important. This consequently increases the child's likelihood of having good academic performance.

    There are many factors that put a student at risk to dropping out of school. Many times not all risk factors apply to all students. However, research has consistently indicated the following risk factors as variables that lead to a student dropping out of school:

  • Lack of parent engagement

  • Poor academic performance

  • Work/Family economic needs

  • Lack of a supportive adult

  • Disconnect between school academics and work

  • Not enough individualized attention

  • Low student engagement

    2. Academic Performance is another key factor that was consistently cited as a factor that influences a student staying in school and graduating. Several research articles cited that the road to academic success starts early in the education system. Both school readiness and 3rd-grade reading proficiency have been cited as indicators of future academic success. After the 3rd-grade children are no longer learning to read but are now reading to learn. Helping struggling students in the 3rd grade to read at or above reading proficiency will help be more prepared for success in the future.

    Research has also indicated that success in middle school is a key indicator of whether a student will drop out of high school. In middle school, a student is bombarded with many social changes that affect success in school. The transition from elementary school, where children are primarily in one class with the same classmates and teacher, to middle school, where students are rotating classes, teachers, and classmates, is a difficult transition for some students. The relationship with their teachers isn?t as strong, due to the fact that they have multiple subjects. This makes it difficult for students to get the attention they need. Research has indicated that success in middle school is a strong indicator of success in high school.

    3. Family Economic Needs also arose in research as a contributing factor to school dropout. For example, Russell Rumberger and Sun Ah Lim authors of the study Why Students Drop Out of School: A Review of 25 Years of Research (2008), found that students from a lower socioeconomic status were more likely to drop out of school than a student from a higher socioeconomic status. Russell Rumberger and Sun Ah Lim's study also found that students who work more than 20 hours a week are more at risk to drop out.

    In order to determine our community need and gather data outlining the relevance of this objective, the first step was to talk to students in our community to determine what they need to be more successful in school. As a champion of positive change in our community, we need to determine what educational issues were, from the perspective of those on the "front lines" in our community. Eight focus groups were held. We spoke with students, parents, young adults who have dropped out of school, teachers, community experts and stakeholders to identify the main barriers to success; over 50 individuals were spoken and listened to.

    "We found that dropping out of school is a process, and does not occur overnight. The process often starts prior to a child entering into the school system. Poor academic achievement as early as elementary school is predictor of dropping out of school.


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    Dave Rogers

    Dave Rogers is a former editorial writer for the Bay City Times and a widely read,
    respected journalist/writer in and around Bay City.
    (Contact Dave Via Email at

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