Why do kids drop out of school?
Researchers at Tufts University have released a study — Don’t Call Them Dropouts — based on interviews in more than a dozen cities, including Minneapolis and Saint Paul, showing that there is no single cause driving most students to leave school.
The students are, however, likely to be growing up in “toxic environments” — violence and abuse — and they don’t get the help when they try to reach out to school officials.
One participant describes the frustration of being unseen at school, despite efforts to “stay engaged:
“I was trying to stay engaged as much as I could but it was like nobody was helping me, nobody. I would go to school. The teachers wouldn’t even acknowledge me, I would say I’m behind, can you do this for me? They were like no, all I can do is give you this and try to do what you can do today. A lot of teachers didn’t even know my name, it got really bad and came to the point where I wasn’t going to graduate.” – Arielys
The researchers said to get kids back to school, it’ll take more than “their own perseverance.”
Despite their many strengths, the young people we interviewed could not reach beyond day-to-day coping without additional support from both caring adults and connected institutions in their communities.
Approaches like integrated student services and comprehensive re-engagement programs recognize the confluence of factors that can lead students out of school. These approaches show promise for resolving the factors that lead too many young people to disengage from school or facilitating young people’s re-engagement.
Once students conclude that the adults in their lives are of no use to them, they seek connections in other ways — gangs, for example.
Students who drop out of school are a lot stronger than they are given credit for, the report said, and they’re struggling with things that have nothing to do with school, and which push school attendance down on their list of priorities. Dropping out is “the end of the story,” not the story.
It suggested creating “community navigators” to help young people get through events like “incarcerated parents, foster care, loss of someone close to them, witnessing violent events, or financial struggles.”
It cited several programs and institutions in the Twin Cities. A Gateway to College program via Hennepin Technical College, which offers programs to high school students who have left school; Ujama Place in Saint Paul, which helps African-American men who have experienced “repeated cycles of failure”; and Brotherhood, Inc., a Saint Paul agency which helps men after prison gain work skills.
The white student graduation rate in Minnesota is 85 percent, according to state data released earlier this year. But the rate for most minority groups is about 60 percent.
Related: How should the U.S. improve college graduation rates? (MPR News).