Foreword by: Camille A. Farrington
Publication Date: July 14, 2017
Through engaging stories and the use of students’ voices, this book corrects persistent misconceptions about youth who drop out of high school. Based on research conducted with high school dropouts in both urban and rural communities, the authors argue that, contrary to popular belief, most dropouts are not disengaged from school at an early age. Many have positive memories of their education, both social and academic, that educators and policymakers can draw on to create successful prevention and intervention practices. The narratives and insights presented here will help readers to better understand the interplay of school-related and personal factors that lead students to drop out of school. "Why We Drop Out" is essential reading for K–12 educators, school principals, counselors, psychologists, and everyone concerned with our nation’s dropout crisis.
Deborah L. Feldman is a senior research consultant based in Seattle who works with public-sector and private non-profit organizations. Antony T. Smith is associate professor in the School of Educational Studies at the University of Washington Bothell. Barbara L. Waxman, an educational consultant based in Seattle, teaches in an innovative teacher certification program dedicated to developing bilingual and diverse educators at Western Washington University.
"It is important to ask what archaic and institutionalized structures in schools could – and should – be dismantled in order to broaden our conception of student attendance and thus, include more students in school beyond those who conform to traditional structures. Asking these questions is an important next step, and it begins with the kind of full and participant-driven understanding of the problems that Why We Drop Out provides."
—Journal of Children and Poverty
“I appreciate the authors’ inclusion of student voice, which offers the capacity to view youth dropout through a different lens. I also value their explicit recommendations for school and system improvement. So often in research practitioners get the “what to do” and not the “how to do it”; this text gives both…The authors leave readers with a choice, and I am optimistic after reading this text that our nation can transform from being one at risk to one that can and will heed the calls to disrupt the pathways to dropping out of school.”
—Harvard Educational Review
"While the authors provide a sobering account of the realities that lead young people to drop out, embedded in these pages is also clear evidence of the transformative power of teachers and school administrators to keep students in school. Every educator will recognize in these stories the daily opportunities that adults have to reach out and grab onto kids who are desperate for a hand and just need someone to pull them over that line."
—From the Foreword by Camille A. Farrington, PhD, author of Failing at School: Lessons for Redesigning Urban High Schools (2014)
"Using rich, personal narratives, this book greatly improves our understanding of the complex and long-term process of dropping out of high school."
—Russell W. Rumberger, UC Santa Barbara, director, California Dropout Research Project
" Why We Drop Out provides a clear and concise framework for one of the biggest challenges we as educators and as a community face: students dropping out of school. For any teacher, principal, or superintendent interested in changing the lives of our students most at risk, this is a must-read, filled with practical and research-based solutions."
—Dr. Greg Baker, superintendent, Bellingham Public Schools
“Deborah L. Feldman, Antony T. Smith, and Barbara L. Waxman have written a book that everyone with a stake in education must read! It undergirds oral histories with interdisciplinary research as it seeks to answer the question of why students drop out of school, and it does an outstanding job of placing student voice—which is so often absent from these discussions—at the very center of the work.”
—Shivohn Garcia, SUNY Empire State College
High-school dropouts are generally assumed to be problem kids who never liked school. Absolutely wrong, says a new book based on detailed interviews with 53 former students living in the Puget Sound area.
The problem of high-school dropouts has inspired a pile of tomes seeking to dissect the causes and keep students in school. But the slim new book “Why We Drop Out,” based on interviews with 53 ex-students in the Puget Sound area, offers some surprising observations.
The most poignant: Almost every one of them had once loved school.
Yolanda, an avid reader, happily recalled raising chicks in an incubator. Xavier described his love for morning reading time and art class. Derrick was fascinated by looking at a frog beneath his microscope in seventh grade. Callie loved “everything about school” — until eighth grade.
Educators tend to focus on three early warning signs — absenteeism, poor grades and behavior problems — recognized as precursors to leaving school. But with half a million kids dropping out nationally, authors Deborah Feldman, Antony Smith and Barbara Waxman suggest that it might be more effective to take inspiration from a more positive source, the last time most young people felt connected to learning — namely, elementary school.
“We all know, now, how important a sense of connection with teachers is to learning,” said Feldman. “But we pull away from that in middle school and treat kids who are 11, 12 or 13 as if they are much older when, actually, they’re still very young.”
Feldman’s research included detailed testimony from nearly five dozen dropouts living in rural, urban and suburban areas, all of them between 16 and 22. Just over half were youths of color. And for each there was a moment, a tipping point that pushed them out the door — and could have been avoided.
Taken together, these portraits belie the common stereotype of delinquents who don’t care about learning. To the contrary, the vast majority despaired as early academic frustrations went insufficiently addressed and the notion of themselves as learners steadily faded away.
The book sketches this progression in a clear, four-step process:
Step 1: Early feelings of discouragement, often around math.
Step 2: “Experimental skipping” of a single class, usually run by a teacher seen as uncaring. About 30 percent of Feldman’s sources had left school within a year of this.
Step 3: Serious truancy, where earlier skipping mushrooms into repeated class-cutting or entire days missed. Serious truancy was the major precursor to leaving school, and 70 percent of the youths interviewed fit into this “slow faders” category.
Step 4: Continuous unexcused absences for at least a month, defined by these authors as dropping out.
The Seattle Times Education Lab interviewed Deborah Feldman about her new book, "Why We Drop Out." Click here to read the full interview.
Foreword by Camille Farrington
Listening to Youth Perspectives
School Factors Connected to Dropping Out: Key Themes
Organization of the Book
Chapter 1. Pathways to Dropping Out
The Problem (Why Should We Care About This?)
Pathways to Dropping Out: Common Patterns
Chapter 2. Early School Years
Positive Early Experiences
Emerging School Challenges
Chapter 3. Middle School Challenges
New Academic Challenges and Expectations
Unsupportive Learning Environments
Early and Unchecked Skipping Behavior
Chapter 4. Navigating High School
Increased Academic Struggles
Peer Issues in High School
Chapter 5. Teen Family and Personal Issues
Overview of Participant Characteristics
Chapter 6. Exiting School
Dropping Out Patterns
Successful and Unsuccessful Re-enrollment in School
Regretting Dropping Out
Chapter 7. Implications and Possibilities
Principle 1: Understand the Story Behind the Behavior
Principle 2: Build a Caring Community and Foster a Sense of Belonging
Principle 3: Institute Instructional Approaches That Support and Engage
About the Author