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What Factors Contribute to the High School Dropout Rate? Are Students Who Live in Low-Income Economic Conditions More Likely to Drop Out?

ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 2011
Dissertation
Author: Alda L Blue
Abstract:
The purpose of this study was to determine what factors contribute to the high school dropout rate. The rate at which students are dropping out of high school is a dilemma and has become a serious problem for school districts across the nation. There is an immediate need for further research on this problem. A qualitative research method was used to focus on the meaning that people make of their lives, their experiences, and their environment. A diverse group of ten male and female participants from an alternative learning facility located in the eastern part of a school district in North Carolina made up the sample population specific to this study. The outcome of this study gained specific data that can be shared and can help schools develop programs or policies for reducing the high school dropout rate. The small group sampling of ten students from one alternative school limited the study. It was concluded that multiple risk factors contribute to student disengagement and accelerate the risk of dropping out of school. The study contributes to literature by providing valuable researched-based evidence that identify factors that contribute to the high school dropout rate.

Table of C ontents

Abstract

................................ ................................ ................................ ................................ ..........

iii

Acknowledgments

................................ ................................ ................................ ..........................

ii

Table of Content s

................................ ................................ ................................ ...........................

iv

Chapter I: Introduction of the Study

................................ ................................ ...............................

1

Background of the Study

................................ ................................ ................................ ............

1

Purpose

................................ ................................ ................................ ................................ ........

3

Research Questions

................................ ................................ ................................ .....................

4

Research Framework

................................ ................................ ................................ ..................

4

Limitations and Assumptions of the Study

................................ ................................ .................

5

Definition of Terms ................................ ................................ ................................ .....................

5

Organization of the Study

................................ ................................ ................................ ...........

7

Chapter II: Literature Review

................................ ................................ ................................ .........

8

Intr oduction

................................ ................................ ................................ ................................ .

8

Review of Existing Literature on Variables ................................ ................................ ..............

11

At - Risk Students

................................ ................................ ................................ .......................

12

Risk Factors

................................ ................................ ................................ ..............................

12

Poverty

................................ ................................ ................................ ................................ ..

12

Homelessness and single - parent homes

................................ ................................ ................

13

Adolescent parenthood ................................ ................................ ................................ ..........

14

Child abuse ................................ ................................ ................................ ............................

15

Family and school pressures

................................ ................................ ................................ .

1 6

Teachers‘ perceptions and expectations ................................ ................................ ................

18

School choice

................................ ................................ ................................ ........................

20

High - Stakes Accountability Systems/Exit Exams.

................................ ...............................

21

v

Chapter Summary

................................ ................................ ................................ .....................

26

Chapter III: Methodology

................................ ................................ ................................ .............

28

Overview

................................ ................................ ................................ ................................ ...

28

Research Design and Meth odology

................................ ................................ ..........................

28

Research Questions

................................ ................................ ................................ ...................

29

Participants and Settings

................................ ................................ ................................ ...........

29

Procedure

................................ ................................ ................................ ................................ ..

30

Data Collection

................................ ................................ ................................ .........................

31

Data Analysis

................................ ................................ ................................ ............................

31

Assumptions and Li mitations

................................ ................................ ................................ ...

32

Chapter Summary

................................ ................................ ................................ .....................

33

Chapter IV: Results and Discussion

................................ ................................ .............................

34

Introduction

................................ ................................ ................................ ...............................

34

Description of Participants

................................ ................................ ................................ ........

35

Demographics.

................................ ................................ ................................ ......................

35

Research Questions

................................ ................................ ................................ ...................

37

Description of Data Collection and Treatment

................................ ................................ .........

37

Data Analysis

................................ ................................ ................................ ............................

39

Findings ................................ ................................ ................................ ................................ .....

39

Teacher expectations and

perceptions

................................ ................................ ..................

41

School Factors

................................ ................................ ................................ .......................

42

Family Support and Economics

................................ ................................ ............................

44

Credibility, Validity and Reliability of Findings

................................ ................................ ......

45

Interpretation/Discussion

................................ ................................ ................................ ..........

45

Summary

................................ ................................ ................................ ................................ ...

46

CHAPTER V: CONCLUSION

................................ ................................ ................................ ....

47

Overview of the Study

................................ ................................ ................................ ..............

47

Interpreta tion of Findings

................................ ................................ ................................ .........

47

Limitations of the Study ................................ ................................ ................................ ............

53

Significance to the Study

................................ ................................ ................................ ..........

53

Contribution to the Field

................................ ................................ ................................ ...........

54

Recommendations for Action

................................ ................................ ................................ ...

54

Recommendations for Future Study

................................ ................................ .........................

55

vi

Summary

................................ ................................ ................................ ................................ ...

55

References

................................ ................................ ................................ ................................ .

58

Appendices

................................ ................................ ................................ ................................

69

Appendix 1: Chart of Top Five Reasons for Leaving School

................................ ..............

69

Appendix 2: Chart of Percentage of Students Feeling Unmotivated

................................ ...

70

Appendix 3: Risk Factors by School Level

................................ ................................ ..........

71

Appendix 4: Letter of Invitation

................................ ................................ ..........................

72

Appendix 5: Parental Permission Form

................................ ................................ ...............

73

Appendix 6: Informed Consent

................................ ................................ ............................

74

Appendix 7: Participant‘s Rights

................................ ................................ .........................

76

Appendix 8: Assent Form

................................ ................................ ................................ ....

78

Appendix 9: LEA Consent Form

................................ ................................ .........................

79

Appendix 10: Focus Discussion Questions ................................ ................................ ..........

80

1

Chapter I : Introduction o f t he Study

Background of the Study

For years the dropout issue for schools has been neglected, and now the graduation rate in our country, and district, has slipped to a level that threatens the well - being of our society (Bridgeland, Dilulio, & Morison, 2006). The dropout crisis in America is alarming. ―Almost one third of all public high school students — and nearly one half of all blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans — fail to graduate from public

high school with their class‖ (Bridgeland et al., 2006, p. i). It is now referred by many as the ―silent epidemic‖ because we, as a nation, did not pay attention as our graduation rate plummeted to a level that threatens the well being of our society (Bri dgeland et al., 2006). Graduation rates are lower than previously thought. Despite the efforts of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation to correct the problem, many students in America are not succeeding academically. A growing consensus has emerged that

only about seven in ten students actually successfully finish high school (Bridgeland et al., 2006).

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) methodology commonly used for calculating graduation rates presents a problem because it incorporates aggregated dropout rates into the graduation rate formula, which tends to under report the graduation rate, consequently causing the graduation rates to be inflated (Stid, Colby, & O‘Neill, 2009). Phelps (2005), in evaluating and assessing the ‗Greene Meth od‘ — which is commonly used and backed by the Manhattan Institute when calculating high school completion ratios, argues that the ‗Greene

2

Method‘ is simulated and has little to no reliability. He contends that statistics from NCES is misunderstood and that it is a data collection agency that cannot always determine the accuracy of the figures submitted to them. Because graduation rates and completion ratios are important measures of education system performance and serve as NCLB supplemental indicators of sc hool success (Phelps, 2005), educators, policymakers, and the public must be better armed with information to more accurately assess the severity of the graduation crisis around the country, and more specifically, in their communities.

We have witnessed growing wage differentials between high school graduates and dropouts during the past 25 years. There was a time in the past when high school dropouts could easily find jobs paying a decent wage; however, increased economic incentives and a demand for more

skilled workers have dramatically reduced the odds for high school dropouts to earn a wage. While high school dropouts have seen their wages decline while those of more skilled workers have risen, the high school dropout rate in America is still increasin g (Center for Child & Family Policy, 2008).

The problem of high school dropouts continues to be a dilemma for school districts across the United States. The decision to drop out of high school is one that has many effects for those involved and is one that

current literature has often addressed. This study addresses some of the factors that play a role in the student‘s decision to drop out of school prior to graduation.

The statistics are very troubling for the high school dropout. They show that males are more likely to dropout than females. Reports show that only about 65% of blacks and Hispanics leave secondary schooling with a diploma (Heckman & LaFontaine, 2008).

Increasing the understanding of the factors that affect a student‘s decision to drop out of

high school is a critical step in improving retention rates.

3

It is important for the community to know why students are dropping out of school. There are a number of reasons. Researchers at Johns Hopkins identified four reasons why students drop out. L ife

events , or

something happens outside of school , lead to some students dropping out of school . For example, students become pregnant, get arrested, or must get a job to support family members. Another reason identified is fade outs. The student at some poi nt becomes bored or frustrated and stops coming to school. Upon reaching a legal dropout age, they convince themselves that they can make it without a high school diploma and will settle for getting the General Education Development (GED). A third reason i s push outs. For some students who are perceived as difficult, dangerous or detrimental to the success of the school, some parents and advocates encourage them to withdraw from the school, transfer to another school, or are dropped from the roll if they mi ss too many days or fail too many courses. The fourth reason is failing to succeed. This includes students who fail to succeed in school and attend schools that fail to provide them with the environment and supports they need to succeed. Each community nee ds a clear picture of its dropouts. Having an accurate picture of each type of dropout is important to the community. (Center for Child and Family Policy, 2008)

Purpose

The purpose of this study was

to determine what factors contribute to the high school dropout rate. Dropping out of high school is a serious problem and can lead to profound social and economic consequences for students, their families, the school and the community. Leaving school wit hout a diploma can have lasting negative effects on the individual socially and economically, causing severe disadvantages entering into adult life.

4

Research Questions

―What factors contribute to the high school dropout rate ?

Are students who live in lo w - income economic conditions more likely to drop out? ‖ become the focus of t he research project. Minority and low - income students in North Carolina and across the U nited S tates

are graduating at a lesser rate than their white or higher income peers.

Resear ch Framework

The qualitative research method describes t he inquiry system employed to aid in identifying factors that contribute to the dropout rate . A

facilitator - lead focus group discussion conducted at the c ounty‘s alternative school

comprise d

the study . It was

designed to focus on the meaning that students make of their lives, their experiences, and their environment through the use of open - ended questions.

The alternative school

is one of the alternative learning programs in the eastern part o f

the school district in North Carolina

available to students that dropped out of school and have made the decision to return to complete the credits required to receive a diploma. Some of the students of the focus group could possibly have been a student a t the school in which the researcher teaches. The researcher‘s relationship to the students of the focus group ties to the daily experience of seeing potential dropouts in the hallways, in the principal‘s office, and sometimes in the classroom.

An intervi ew with some key

stakeholders in the district and at alternative school

help ed

identify possible individuals to participate in the project as it develop ed . Each stakeholder had

a keen interest in the topic of improving low graduation rates and reducing the

number of dropouts. In the roles and responsibilities of their jobs, they were

quite familiar with the issues at hand and had experiences that provide d

insight as the researcher conducted

research on the topic.

5

The proposed source of information was

stude nt responses

to the guided questions for the focus discussion . The focus group consist ed

of participants, made up of a diverse group, male and female, ranging in the ages of 1 5 - 1 7 .

The study provide d

valuable research - based evidence that identify factors that contribute to the high school dropout rate , implying that no single risk factor can be used to accurately predict who will drop out of high school.

Dropouts face a competitive and hostile labor m arket environment. As efforts to understand and combat the dropout crisis advance, there must be a commitment from educators, policymakers, students, parents, and the public to create a public education system in which earning a high school diploma is the norm for all students and

dropping out is a rare exception.

Limitations and Assumptions o f the Study

The study

was

limited to a small group sampling of ten students from an alternative school . A n a ssumption that govern s

the research was

that

academic information about the participa nts was

accurate. It was

further assumed that p articipants wer e honest and forthright with their answers to the research questions . Additionally, it was

assumed that w hat students ma d e of their lives, their experien ces, and their environment were

factors that influence d

their decisions to drop out of high school . Another assumption was

t he researcher would

accurately describe participants‘ personal experiences and environment .

Definition of Terms

The Center for Ch ild & Family Policy (2008)

defines the following terms . The definitions are given here i n an effort to avoid ambiguity

for the readers.

6

Dropout — Any

student who leaves school for any reason before graduation or completion of a program of studies without transferring to another elementary or secondary school

( Ce nter for Child & Family Policy, 2008, p. 8 ) .

At - risk — A student has one or more factors that have been found to predict a high rate of school failure at some time in the future

( Ce nter for Child & Family Policy, 2008, p. 36) .

Life Events — Students who drop out because of something that happens outside of school: they become pregnant, get arrested o r have to go to work to support members of their family

( Ce nter for Child & Family Policy, 2008, p. 20) .

Fade Outs — Students who have generally been promoted on time from grade to grade and may even have above - grade - level skills, but at some point become fr ustrated or bored and stop coming to school

( Ce nter for Child & Family Policy, 2008, p. 20) .

Push Outs — There are parents and advocates who believe that some students, especially students who are (or are perceived to be) difficult, dangerous or detrimental to the success of the school, are subtly (or not so subtly) encouraged to withdraw from the school, transfer to another school or are simply dropped from the rolls if they fail too many courses or miss too many days of school and are past (or in some cases

not even past) the legal dropout age

( Ce nter for Child & Family Policy, 2008, p. 20) .

Exit Examination — A test or series of tests that students must pass in order to graduate from high school

( Ce nter for Child & Family Policy, 2008, p. 38) .

General Educati on Development (GED) Credential — A comprehensive test used primarily to appraise the educational development of students who have not

7

completed their formal high school education and who may earn a high school equivalency certificate through achieving satis factory scores.

Socioeconomic Status (SES) — A measure of an individual‘s or family‘s economic and social ranking relative to other families

( Ce nter for Child & Family Policy, 2008, p. 41) .

Qualitative Sampling — The process of selecting a small number of indi viduals for a study in such a way that the individuals chosen will be able to help the researcher understand the phenomenon under investigation (Gay, Mills, & Airasian, 2006, p. 113)

Organization of the Study

In organizing this study, Chapter I

provides

an introduction, background of the study, purpose, definition of related terms, research question , and assumptions and limitations of the study . Chapter II

reviews current ,

relevant and scholarly literature for the study

that

adds to t he existing body of knowledge. Chapter III

provides a justification for the research field guiding the study. Chapter IV provides the results of the study and a discussion of those results. Chapter V presents a conclusion of the entire project and recommends actions to be ta ken

to address the research topic. A focus for future research is also discussed .

8

Chapter II : Literature Review

Introduction

A major problem facing American education today is reducing the number of students who fail to graduate from high school. The close to 500,000 adolescents per year

reported in the National Center for Education Statistics and documented by researchers Strom

and Boster (2007) as

dropping out of high school is evidence of a national crisis. For years the dropout issue for schools has been neglected, and now the graduation rate in our country has slipped to a level that threatens the well - being of our society. The graduation rate is a barometer of the skill level of our future workforce and the health of our society

(Heckman & LaFontaine, 2008).

A national research puts the graduation rate between 68 and 71 percent, meaning almost one - third of all public high sc hool students in America fail to graduate (Bridgeland, Dilulio, & Morison, 2006). Minority and low - income students across the US are graduating at a lesser rate than their white or higher income peers. Though there were many limitations to the study, Carpe nter and Ramirez (2007) found consistency with this statement through their study of a small sample of Black, Hispanic, and White high school students. Their statistical data showed a dropout rate among Black and Hispanic students as almost identical at 1 5.0% and 15.4%, respectively, while the dropout rate among White students was nearly half that at 8%. To better understand trends of this nature, the researcher has

chosen to explore factors that contribute to students dropping out of

9

school prior to recei ving a diploma and measures that can be taken to help improv e

the high school graduation rate.

A review of the literature shows that there is no single risk factor to predict who is at risk of dropping out of school

(Hupfeld, 2007) . Instead, there are mul tiple factors interacting with each other across multiple domains that lead students to drop out of school.

Appendix 3 shows a graphic organizer of significant risk factors by school levels. Menzer and Hampel (2009) proclaim that there are many things that

can be and should be done to help students at risk of dropping out of school. They recommend adopting a variety of interventions. A project spearheaded by Marquez - Zenkov, Harmon, van Lier, and Marquez - Zenkov (2007) focused on taking the insights of studen ts about teachers‘ roles and practices to identify some of the causes of strained relationships with school leaders and to identify what teacher roles and instructional methods might be more successful in countering the trends. Many reflections were cited and based on the evidence, youths need teachers and adults to understand that they are often competing with many external factors and they need to become aware of the myriad context of students‘ lives ((Marquez - Zenkov et al., 2007).

Dropping out of high s chool is a serious problem, and society is finally acknowledging the profound social and economic consequences for student s , their families, the school and the community. Leaving school without a diploma can have lasting negative effects on the individual socially and economically, causing severe disadvantages entering into adult life

(Plank, DeLuca, Estacion, 2008) .

Research has compellingly shown that dropouts are more likely than their peers who graduate to be unemployed, living in poverty, receiving pub lic assistance, in prison, on death row, unhealthy, divorced, and ultimately single parents with children who drop out from high school themselves

(Bridgeland et al., 2006; Christle, Jolivette, & Nelson, 2007) . On an

10

average, high school dropouts earn $9,2 00 less per year than high school graduates, and approximately $1 million less over the span of a lifetime than college graduates (Bridgeland et al., 2006). The negative effects of leaving school without a diploma are documented in a California dropout res earch project conducted by Belfield and Levin (2007). In this report

is compelling evidence that an individual‘s income is influenced by their schooling, and persons with more education are more apt to be healthier. Data from their research show that more than three out of ten public school students fail to graduate on time in California. A poll released by MTV and the National Governors Association found that 87 percent of all young people want to go onto college, yet young people continue to drop out of h igh school in large numbers (Bridgeland et al., 2006).

A

vast amount of literature is available relating to

the dropout epidemic in the United States. The most comprehensive and authoritative compendium of the research on the dropout rate is found in the

work of Swanson (2003) ,

Swanson and Chaplin (2003 ) ,

a study conducted by Neild, Stoner - Eby, and Furstenberg (2008),

and findings from research conducted by Gewertz (2009).

There are many facets of the epidemic — school reporting practices, dropout intervention/prevention strategies and programs, economic losses, recruitment and retention, public health issues, just to name a few — that could be explored. To gain a better understanding of a population of at - risk students and their decision whether to r emain in school or drop out, the researcher analyze d

and discuss ed

research conducted on specific variables that contribute to students‘ decisions. The specific variables include d

the at - risk student s

and perceived pressures they feel are received from hom e as well as school, the risk factors contributing to students‘ decision to leave school early, the impact of teacher perceptions and expectations on the student, and the effect of high - stakes accountability systems and exit exams. To conduct the research for

11

this review, the researcher examine d

peer - reviewed journal articles and conduct ed

web - based searches including, but not limited to, Academic Search Premier, or EBSCO databases, ProQuest and ERIC. An examination and evaluation of existing literature all ow ed

for a better understanding of current theories and research related to the topic of at - risk students and their decision to leave high school before receiving a diploma.

Review of Existing Literature on Variables

This chapter examine d

and present ed

a deeper investigation of each of the variables believed to be a contributing factor in a student‘s decision to drop out of high school. It explore d

the at - risk student and independent variables believed to categorize a student as being at - risk. The resea rcher explore d

existing research in an effort to provide support for the predictive nature each variable plays on the decision to remain in or drop out of school prior to graduation. The term dropout is defined as ―any student who leaves school for any rea son before graduation or completion of a program of studies without transferring to another elementary or secondary school ‖ (Center for Child & Family Policy ,

2008 , p. 14 ) . At - risk students, in the context of dropping out of school, are defined as students

having ―one or more factors that have been found to predict a high rate of school failure at some time in the future. . . . The risk factors include extreme poverty, having a parent who never finished high school, living in foster care and living in a hou sehold where the primary language spoken is not English‖ (p. 36).

In developing the review, an overview of the problem was

presented with documentation supporting the existence of a national problem. Most individuals that drop out do not make this decision

overnight. There are a number of factors that lead to that ultimate decision

(Bridgeland et al., 2006; Hupfeld, 2007) . Although academic problems are one of the most robust predictors of high

school dropout , other factors play a key role in the decision t o leave school. At - risk

12

students and the various causes for dropping out of high school — such as

poverty, homelessness and single - parent homes, adolescent parenthood, child abuse, pressures from home and school, impact of teacher perceptions and expectation s, school choice, and high - stakes accountability systems and exit exams — were

explored to provide the background necessary for understanding various factors that influence dropout and graduation rates.

At - Risk Students

There are many environmental influenc es that place students at risk of academic failure. Such influences include poverty, single - parent homes, abusive parents, homelessness, and substance abuse. These risk factors have become recognizable at an early age by educators. School officials are abl e to predict, with a fair amount of accuracy, which stud ents will later become dropouts

(Jerald, 2006) . Other familiar attributes of at - risks students include personal upheavals such as juvenile detention, expulsion from foster homes, and early entry into parenthood. Students in these categories find their need to survive overshadowing the completion of high school. Transitioning to high school has been associated with high school dropout. Many students find it difficult to make the transition as the academ ic, organizational, and social demands increase. Many adolescents have not been given the support needed to develop these skills, thus they develop low self - esteem, become frustrated, and eventually drop out of school. Crowder and South (as cited by Somers , Owens, & Piliawsky, 2009) suggest environmental stressors, such as the neighborhood, contribute to youths dropping out of school.

Full document contains 90 pages
Abstract: The purpose of this study was to determine what factors contribute to the high school dropout rate. The rate at which students are dropping out of high school is a dilemma and has become a serious problem for school districts across the nation. There is an immediate need for further research on this problem. A qualitative research method was used to focus on the meaning that people make of their lives, their experiences, and their environment. A diverse group of ten male and female participants from an alternative learning facility located in the eastern part of a school district in North Carolina made up the sample population specific to this study. The outcome of this study gained specific data that can be shared and can help schools develop programs or policies for reducing the high school dropout rate. The small group sampling of ten students from one alternative school limited the study. It was concluded that multiple risk factors contribute to student disengagement and accelerate the risk of dropping out of school. The study contributes to literature by providing valuable researched-based evidence that identify factors that contribute to the high school dropout rate.