The unacceptably high dropout rate in the United States can be termed a crisis because of the impact dropping out has on the individual and their future opportunities and the dramatic economic and social costs dropping out has on a community, state, and the nation. Among developed countries, the United States ranks eighteenth in high school graduation rates with just over 70 percent of students graduating nationwide. Graduation rates for black, Hispanic, and low-income students are disturbingly lower, hovering at just over 50 percent.
In an effort to curb dropout rates, recent research has focused on identifying the risk-factors that are associated with dropping out. Often these factors are grouped into four domains: individual, family, school, and community factors. Of the many risk-factors associated with dropping out, not one indicator reliably predicts whether a student will drop out. However, it is clear that the more risk-factors a student has, the higher the chances are of dropping out. Furthermore, the research reveals that dropping out is typically a process that occurs over time, with multiple contributing factors, not an event that happens abruptly. This means there are many opportunities to implement preventative programs and strategies.
The personal, social, and economic consequences of the drop out crisis are clear. According to the Alliance for Excellent Education, high school dropouts are more likely than their peers who graduate to be unemployed, in prison, living in poverty, relying on government assistance, and to be single parents with children who themselves drop out. On average, high school graduates live longer, earn higher wages, and are less likely to be unemployed during an economic recession than dropouts. Additionally, the state and nation benefit from the increased purchasing power, higher collected taxes, higher levels of worker productivity, and increased civic activity of high school graduates.
Regionally, both Missouri (with a dropout rate of 4.2 percent) and Illinois (with a dropout rate of 4.1 percent) fair better than the national dropout rate of 8.7 percent. However, while the state average for Missouri is lower than the national average, the difference in dropout rates from one school district to another is severe. Take for example the urban school district of St. Louis City which has a dropout rate of 22.8 percent, with multiple high schools with dropout rates over 30 percent and one high school with a dropout rate as high as 42.2 percent. In a suburban district not more than 15 minutes from the St. Louis Public School District, the lowest dropout rate in St. Louis County can be found, with a high school with a dropout rate of a mere 0.1 percent. While the average dropout rate for the state is lower than the national average, examining the dropout data at the district or school level reveals the unequal opportunity the state is providing its students.
After falling for close to a decade, Missouri’s dropout rate reached a low of 3.3 percent in 2003. However, in the following five years the dropout rate began to climb back up and in 2008 it was at 4.2 percent. In 2009 in an effort to draw attention to Missouri’s dropout problem, the state launched the Graduation Matters in Missouriinitiative. However, with little money and strategic action attached to this initiative, it functions more as a public service announcement than a comprehensive dropout prevention strategy. In St. Louis City, where some of the highest dropout rates in the state can be found, both theTruancy Initiative Project and Reach Out St. Louis! have been launched. Both of these initiatives involve collaboration between various concerned parties and both obviously aim to decrease dropout rates in the City of St. Louis. However, it will take more than these two initiatives to affect change in a district where nearly one in four students drop out.
In recent years, Bill and Melinda Gates and the Gates Foundation, Colin and Alma Powell and Americas Promise Alliance, and the Obama Administration all vowed to tackle the dropout crisis and began to focus attention on what researchers have termed the “silent epidemic”. However, the situation remains the same in communities all across the nation and it will remain the same until we as a nation see the education of all our children as a national priority. Even then it will take widespread, collaborative action at the school, community, district, state, and federal level before we realize measurable change.