Solving the Dropout Problem

11/20/2009  |  Franklin Schargel
Helping Students Graduate

There are five major causes of students dropping out of school:

  1. The child him/herself
  2. The family situation
  3. The community they live in
  4. The school environment
  5. The teacher(s) they have

In order to prevent students from dropping out of school, we must attack


the causes listed above. Some of them are out of our control. For example, we cannot address the community they live in or in most cases, their family situation. But we can address the choices they make and the school environment. One of the ways of doing so is for educators to ask a serious of tough questions.

How inviting a classroom environment is there for the student? Are the walls painted in “happy colors” or are they drab institutional gray or green? Are your bulletin boards filled with student work, left blank or with commercial advertisements?

Are all students encouraged to learn? Has the school created different classes for students – those designed to pass and those designed to fail? Those who will go on to college and those who will drop out.What role can you, as a classroom instructor, play in overcoming this paradigm?

How many students start in your school or system, graduate? Does the school track their progress through the system?Are“safety nets” built in for those who are identified as at-risk? What “pillars” support these safety nets? Are you one of these safety nets? Do you know how to get additional assistance in helping students graduate? (Is there additional counseling, mentoring, after school learning activities, service-learning projects designed to connect school to the world of work? As you track, is the largest reason for kids leaving school,“miscellaneous”?

How many students who dropouts are actually pushed out? (Students who are told, by word or action,“I do not want you in my class”or “I don’t need you in my school.”) How close to graduation are students who dropout? Do they need one credit or ten? What has the school done to help them make up the credit? What role can you, as a classroom instructor, play in overcoming this paradigm? What is done to support the “psychological” dropout – the child who is physically in the school but mentally is miles away.What role can you, as a classroom instructor, play in overcoming this paradigm?

Why Should we be Concerned About our At-Risk Population?

Aside from their growing numbers and the impact that they have on school achievement levels, we should be concerned about their effect on school discipline and school violence. Because they have difficulty learning in the traditional manner, they tend to disrupt class activities and other students from learning. According to a report sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation,The Silent Epidemic, the main reason students drop out of schools is boredom. According to research, 16.6% of all students who drop out of school are high school seniors. What they are saying because of their actions, that with nine months or less to go, it is not worth their finishing their learning. The demands of increased state standards and No Child Left Behind legislation, these students’ achievement levels must be disaggregated by ethnicity, geographic location of school, disabilities and income levels. At-risk learners are:

  • More likely to wind up in jail.According to the US Department of Justice, 72 percent of all prisoners are high school dropouts.
  • More likely to be single parents.
  • Slip into poverty,
  • Be on welfare,
  • Commit crimes.

What Causes Students to Be at Risk?

There are five primary causes of being at-risk:

Community Related

  • Lack of community support services
  • Lack of community support for schools
  • High incidents of criminal activities
  • Lack of school/community linkages

Student related

  • Poor school attitude
  • Low ability level
  • Attendance/truancy
  • Behavior/discipline problems
  • Pregnancy
  • Drug/alcohol use
  • Poor peer relationships
  • Nonparticipation
  • Friends have dropped out
  • Illness/disability
  • Low self-esteem

Family Related 

  • Low SES
  • Dysfunctional home-life
  • Lack of parental involvement in school
  • Low parental expectations
  • Non-English speaking home
  • Ineffective parenting
  • Abuse
  • High Mobility

School Related

  • Conflict between home/school cultures
  • Ineffective discipline system
  • Lack of adequate counseling
  • Negative school climate
  • Lack of relevant curriculum
  • Passive instructional strategies
  • Poor use of technology
  • Disregard of student learning styles
  • Retentions/Suspensions
  • Low expectations
  • Lack of language instruction

Teacher Related



  • They know what to teach (highly qualified)
  • They know how to teach (highly effective)
  • Fail to realize that there are different learning styles that need to be addressed.

  • Don’t love kids or education

  • Not willing to spend additional time supporting those who need additional time

What Can District and Building Level Administrators Do?

There are several things that can be done: The National Dropout Prevention Center at Clemson University and I have developed 15 strategies that the National Education Goals Panel has stated are“the strategies which will help solve the school dropout problem.” The strategies have been recognized by the United States Department of Education and are listed on their website, the National Dropout Prevention Center ( and mine ( strategies have been implemented successfully at all education levels and environments throughout the nation.

Franklin Schargel is president of Schargel Consulting Company. For more information visit
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