The Cost of Reducing School Dropout Rates

Braedon Harris, Co-Editor-in-Chief

Between 2010 and 2016, the National Center for Education Statistics reported a slight decrease in the high school dropout rate, from 7.4 percent to 6.1 percent, which reflects a trend been since the 1970s when the United States and the Department of Education fought to increase the graduation rate across the country. However, in their attempt to lower the dropout rate amongst high schoolers, all they’ve managed to do is make it easier for students to get through school as opposed to strengthening the value of education and improving knowledge of the material students are taught in their classes.

Starting in the 1980s, organizations like the National Dropout Prevention Center (NDPC) began to form, partnering with state education agencies across the country to develop strategies to increase graduation rates. The  NDPC has identified 15 effective strategies that have the most positive impact on reducing school dropout and encourage policymakers and school districts to put the strategies in action. Some of these strategies include mentoring, alternative schooling, and after school instruction opportunities. Although, in theory, the strategies drafted by the NDPC seem plausible, the problem comes once they were put into effect.

When a student fails a course and is at risk of not graduating, they are offered additional opportunities to obtain the credit they lost. According to the U.S. Department of Education (DOE), 89 percent of high schools nationwide offered at least one credit recovery course in 2015. Of these, 84 percent of the credit recovery programs are offered during the school day, as opposed to requiring the students to attend school during the summer, and 70 percent are taught by regular teachers.  A survey conducted by the DOE reported that 15 percent of students participated in a credit recovery course to gain credit they wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. This translates to over 2.2 million students in high school nationwide who rely on credit recovery to graduate, according to the National Center for Education Statistics fall 2018 enrollment data.

While the ideas behind providing a way for students at risk of dropping out to recover credit are reasonable on paper, they create a negative attitude amongst both students and teachers. For students, they begin to believe that whether or not they try, they’ll still be able to obtain credit. For many schools, this means higher absence rates and less motivated students. In return, teachers may also suffer at the hands of the DOE trying to provide ways for their student to just get through. Teachers may become discouraged and stressed, not only by students who disregard their efforts to teach, but also by all of the additional paperwork that comes with failing students.

Furthermore, when looking at the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) end-of-course tests, typically scores of only 60 percent meet the grade level requirements. In addition, students who fail their first time still receive an two additional chances to retake the test after accelerated instruction. On top of this, students are also able to be promoted to the next grade through a committee decision if they fail to meet testing requirements. In making committees like these, administrations may feel pressured to graduate students they’ve given up on and don’t want to deal with anymore. Although programs like these provide a way to help younger students in lower grade levels and those with disabilities in high school, they only lower the standard for other students. In an effort to reduce the dropout rates in school, the expectations of students have been lowered and it’s been made easier to graduate.

Despite the best efforts to help all students, especially those who are struggling and need additional help, programs that have been created to increase graduation rates have lowered the expectations of students. It has become too easy for students to get the credit they need for graduation or to meet state testing requirements resulting in schools graduating students who aren’t properly prepared for life after high school.