Why Kids Drop Out of School

By Kate Convissor

Teens drop out of school for many reasons, and the decision to drop out is rarely spur of the moment. Kids usually drop out of school following a long process of disengagement and academic struggle. Many teens say they were bored and frustrated with classes that didn't seem relevant to their life. Or they felt they had fallen so far behind they eventually gave up hope. Teens report that no one really cared about their school experience, or they felt subtly "pushed out" by school staff who perceived them as difficult or dangerous.
What is absolutely predictable is that many kids who don't finish high school do poorly in life. Without a high school diploma they will have a harder time finding a job, and they will earn much less when they do find one (about a million dollars less over a lifetime). They are more likely to have poor health, to live in poverty, and to have children at an early age, who in turn are also more likely to drop out of school. Nationally, seventy percent of inmates in prison didn't graduate from high school.

While the reasons kids drop out vary, the following are six important risk factors:

  1. Academic difficulty and failure. Struggling in school and failing classes is one of the main reasons teens drop out, and this pattern often shows up early. Students who fail eighth grade English or math, for example, are seventy-five percent more likely to drop out of high school.
  2. Poor attendance. Teens who struggle in school are also absent a lot, and along with academic failure, absenteeism is an important future predictor for dropping out. As with the previous example, students who are absent for twenty percent of their eighth grade year (one day per week) are also highly likely to drop out in high school.
  3. Being held back (retention). Linked to academic difficulty, students who are held back and who are older than the kids in their grade also tend to drop out.
  4. Disengagement from school. Many kids who drop out say that school was boring and teachers did little to connect learning to real life. They didn't feel invested in their school and they didn't feel that adults seemed interested in them or their high school experience.
  5. Transition to a new school. A poor transition from the smaller, more protected environment of middle school to the anonymity of a high school can cause a teen to have difficulty catching up-and some kids never do.
  6. Other life factors. Pregnancy, family problems, and financial difficulties are all factors that distract a student from schoolwork and make keeping up more challenging.

The good news is that dropping out is easily prevented. Most teens who drop out had at least passing grades, and these kids say that, with some help, they could have completed high school. Parents who are involved in their kids' education often make the difference between academic success and failure. Kids do better when their parents care: when parents make sure their kids get to school and are progressing well and when parents communicate their expectations for success. If problems arise, involved parents have laid a solid foundation for dealing with them.
Start early to prevent high school dropouts. Read the article "Seven Middle School Ideas to Stay Ahead for Parents" for tips.