The Demography of School Dropouts
The Slow Fade may be a more apt description than dropping out. Research has shown that dropping out is not a short-term decision. Rather, the decision to leave school without graduating is more of a slow fade beginning early in the 3rd grade or so. Disengagement from school, poor grades, isolation, truancy, and other factors build up and eventually students decide to leave school. Being a school dropout was not a problem in the early part of the twentieth century. There appear to be three reasons why being a school dropout became a social problem. First, in the early part of the twentieth century the U.S. economy was based on agriculture and then moved toward an industrial-based economy. As technology became an ever more increasing part of work, employers felt that technological skills were important and that educated workers were more likely to acquire these skills. Second, education became a place to house younger workers so they could not compete with older workers for jobs. Third, as more Americans stayed in school and acquired high school diplomas, it became a social norm. Any deviation from earning a high school diploma became an important social problem. What has also emerged recently is that there are some important demographic issues associated with school dropouts but a comprehensive demographic analysis has not, to the best of our knowledge, been undertaken. For example, males are more likely to dropout than females; urban areas have higher rates than the suburbs or rural areas; and some states have higher rates than others. The purpose of our paper is to attempt to fill this void in the dropout research by undertaking a demographic analysis of school dropouts.
Keywords: Demography, Dropouts, Schools
Dr. Richard Verdugo
Senior Research Scientist, Human and Civil Rights, National Education Association
Dr. Thomas Dial
Senior Policy Analyst, Research Department, National Education Association