What motivates high school students and what makes them drop out are topics that have been grabbing some attention recently from the National Research Council.
Part of the congressionally chartered National Academy of Sciences, the council enlists leading researchers to advise the government on science and technology. The group this past summer convened a committee of its experts to synthesize research on motivating and engaging teenagers in school.
"There's been more of a focus on this topic in the elementary and middle grades, but not that much in high school and not that much on urban high schools, which have so many needs," said Timothy Ready, the study's director.
The 15-member panel will spend the next 16 months reviewing education, behavioral-science, and social-science research on the subject. The group is headed by Deborah J. Stipek, the dean of Stanford University's school of education.
Meanwhile, another NRC panel has ended its look at the other side of the same coin: students who disengage from school and drop out.
The Committee on Educational Excellence and Testing Equity decided to look at the research on dropouts because of concerns that new high school exit exams could be pushing some students out of school.
The group concluded that school districts, states, and federal agencies need to do a better job of data-collecting to find out if that is actually happening. Policymakers need to know which students are leaving school, whether they're earning alternative diplomas, and what happens to them when they leave, the committee's report says, as well as what happens to students who do all their coursework but fail to pass their exit exams.
But the best idea, the report says, is for educators to get extra help to students before they have to repeat a grade.
"The strong association between retention in grade and dropping out suggests that it is not a beneficial intervention," the panel says.
Vol. 21, Issue 3, Page 8