Forget everything you know about young people who don’t finish high-school, and that means leaving behind those preconceptions and assumptions you have about them. This is the premise of a new report, “Don’t call them Dropouts,” which surveyed youth in order to identify why students left school.
“Fight the instinct to reach for quick solutions,” John Gomperts, President and CEO of America’s Promise Alliance, says in an introduction to the report. “Young people who don’t finish high school have few avenues for sharing their stories with adults, school professionals, community leaders, and policy makers.”
The report is meant to help America’s Promise Alliance and its partners and allies as they work to raise the high school graduation rate from 80% to 90% by 2020. Knowing why youth disengage from school, and then what motivates them to return or stay away, is critical to inform best practices that would ensure all youth have the opportunity and support they need to graduate high school.
So what insight does the report provide into why youth leave school? As John Gomperts says, it’s complicated.
They Don’t Live in Bubbles. The classroom isn’t where youth start and end their day. Youth that leave school are often growing up in toxic environments where they are exposed to violence, adverse health events, and unsafe climates. It takes a huge toll on youth when they don’t feel safe or supported, and for the youth that leave school, they report not finding a safe or supportive environment at home, in their schools, or other places in their community. Another example of how their lives outside of school impact their work in school: a young person who experienced homelessness was 87% more likely to leave school.
There’s Not Just One Reason For Why They Leave. The report identifies 25 “factors” or negative experiences that contribute to why a student leaves school, and for those that do leave school, they are often experiencing a handful or more of these. These are experiences like pregnancy, violence, abuse, neglect, homelessness, and frequent moving–all of which on their own would life-altering events in a young person’s life. Additionally, these factors do not lend themselves to a one-size-fits-all support strategy, especially when several students are experiencing several of these events at once.
Relationships and Connections are Key. The report finds that youth are impacted by the people in their lives–their parents, care givers, teachers, community leaders, peers–and their action, or inaction, are instrumental in leading student to or away from school. In fact, youth who say they have at least one person in their lives who believe in them and encourages them to stay in school or return to school had better outcomes than youth who did not. 41% of youth who returned to school after leaving reported that they did so because someone encouraged them to. And it’s not just those in their family or schools that can have a positive impact; youth who participate in after-school programs were 67% less likely to leave school.
These Youth Are Resilient. The lives of young people who leave school isn’t defined by not finishing school. In fact, they demonstrate their resiliency–the ability to “bounce back”–from the obstacles they face. The report found that about 75% of the young people who leave school end up later attaining a high school diploma or equivalent. But the report acknowledges that their resiliency simply allows them to cope with their toxic environments and their negative experiences. In order to ensure that these students have the ability to “reach up,” or pursue positive opportunities, the report recommends creating and aligning supports and opportunities for youth that can be found in their families, schools, and communities.
So now that we know more about the young people that leave school, how can we increase the graduation rate? Read what the report recommends here.