School & District Management News in Brief

Schism on Dropout Problem Seen

By Catherine Gewertz — June 09, 2009 2 min read
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Teachers and principals are far more likely to blame parents and students than themselves or their schools for the high school dropout problem, according to a new study.

A report issued June 4 explores teachers’ and principals’ perceptions of the dropout issue. The study, based on focus groups and telephone interviews with 603 teachers and 169 principals from public high schools, follows two others done on the topic by the same organization, the Washington-based policy group Civic Enterprises. In 2006, “Silent Epidemic” explored dropouts’ attitudes toward school. Last year, “One Dream, Two Realities” mined parents’ views of the dropout problem. (“H.S. Dropouts Say Lack of Motivation Top Reason to Quit,” March 8, 2006, and “Parents Show Strong Interest in School Involvement,” Oct. 29, 2008.)

More than three-quarters of teachers surveyed for the new report said students themselves or parents bore most of the responsibility. Fewer than 20 percent blamed themselves, their schools, society, or elected officials. When principals were asked the same thing, more than 70 percent placed most blame on parents or students, but were more likely to assign themselves (22 percent) or their school systems (28 percent) primary responsibility than were the teachers who were interviewed.

Suggestions From the Trenches

Percent of educators saying each would help a lot to reduce the number of students who drop out.


SOURCE: Civic Enterprises

The study also uncovered what it called an “expectations gap” between teachers and principals on the one hand, and students on the other, when it comes to analyzing and responding to the dropout crisis.

Two-thirds of the dropouts said in the 2006 report that they would have worked harder had more been expected of them, but three-quarters of the teachers and two-thirds of the principals said they didn’t think students would work harder if demands were more stringent.

Fewer than one-third of teachers and nearly six in 10 principals said they agreed with the statement, “We should expect all students to meet high academic standards and provide extra support to struggling students to help them meet those standards.” Six in 10 principals and four in 10 teachers agreed that there should be “a separate track to allow students who are not college- bound to get a diploma without achieving high standards.”

In focus groups, teachers said they had high expectations for their students, but seemed dubious that all students could reach college readiness because of challenges at home or poor academic preparation for high school. They also believed that they and their students were not getting the necessary support and resources to improve performance.

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A version of this article appeared in the June 10, 2009 edition of Education Week


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