Engagement, Opinion, Pathways, School Community, Teaching

How Can We Prevent High School Dropouts?

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How do we help students stay in school?

For most people, completing secondary school has become a basic requirement to be able to live satisfying and productive lives. Much has been learned about the factors that keep young people on track to successful high school graduation.

The most important single factor is students’ feeling of connection to the school and in particular, the belief by every student that there is at least one adult in the school who knows and cares about that student. Schools can do many things to promote this, such as assigning teacher advisors, and taking action early when a student shows signs of being in difficulty, both personally and academically. Schools can reach out to struggling students to offer extra support; sometimes only a small amount of such support is enough to make a big difference.

Also important are an engaging curriculum and effective teaching practices. Many students do not find their lessons intellectually stimulating.   Students want and need work that challenges their abilities but that also provides the opportunity to be successful. This is only partly a matter of the content; it is also a matter of effective teaching and of fair assessment practices. Students do better when they feel they have some input into the kind of work they do, opportunities to improve their work, and teaching that pays attention to their background knowledge and interests.

The fourth key factor is a respectful environment, where staff and students treat one another with consideration and thoughtfulness, where students have a voice in how the school operates, and where rules show consideration for students’ individual needs and circumstances.

High schools that embody these features will have better outcomes and better graduation rates.

Additional Resources For Parents

GLOBAL VOICES IN CANADA: What Did You Do in School Today?: This article looks at the importance of student engagement in high schools. http://webspace.oise.utoronto.ca/~levinben/Kappan1002levWDYDIST.pdf

In Canada: 20 minutes to change a life?: The article discusses the positive impact of supportive adult attention on students facing challenges in high school.



National Center on Secondary Education and Transition: This website provides tips for parents on strategies that promote graduation and school achievement.



Ontario Ministry of Education: This website provides options for parents to help children graduate from secondary school.



School Leavers: Understanding the Lived Reality of Student Disengagement from Secondary School: This report was prepared by Resource Group The Hospital for Sick Children For the Ontario Ministry of Education and Training, Special Education Branch, Toronto, Canada



What Did You Do in School Today?: This report discusses the need for social, academic and intellectual engagement for adolescents learners.



Research References Informing this Issue

Balfanz, R. et al. (2007), “Preventing Student Disengagement and Keeping Students on the Gradation Path in Urban Middle-Grades Schools: Early Identification and Effective Interventions” in Educational Psychologist, Vol. 42, No. 4, pp. 223-235.

Hammond, C., Linton, D., Smink, J., & Drew, S. (2007). Dropout risk factors and exemplary programs. Clemson, SC: National Dropout Prevention Center, Communities In Schools, Inc.

Jerald, C. D. (2006). Identifying potential dropouts: Key lessons for building an early warning system. Washington, DC: American Diploma Project Network, Achieve, Inc.

Lyche, C.S. (2010). Taking on the completion challenge: A literature review on policies to prevent drop out and early school leaving. Paris: OECD

Mac Iver, D.J. and M. A. Mac Iver (2009), Beyond the Indicators: An Integrated School-level Approach to Dropout Prevention, The George Washington University Center for Equity and Excellence in Education, Arlington

Rumberger, R.W. and Lim, S.A. (2008), Why Students Drop Out of School: A Review of 25 Years of Research, California Dropout Research Project, Santa Barbara.






Meet the Expert(s)

Ontario Institute for Studies in Education