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My Turn 9-24
Why students quit high school
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Two weeks ago, I opined on the problem with high school dropouts in America. This week, I turn to why students drop out and what can be done about it.
Profiling a “typical” high school dropout is a challenge because there are so many reasons cited by various sources. Some of the research I’ve seen even suggests nearly all reasons for students dropping out “fit into four categories.”
The first category is Life Events: students who drop out because of something that happens out of school -- they get pregnant, get arrested or have to work to support members of their family.
The second category is Fade Outs: students who have generally been promoted on time from grade to grade, but at some point become frustrated or bored and stop seeing a reason for coming to school. When they reach the legal dropout age, they simply quit, hoping to cope without a high school diploma, perhaps by getting a GED.
The third category is Push Outs: students who are perceived to be difficult, dangerous or detrimental to the success of the school. Hence, they are encouraged to withdraw from the school or transfer to another school.  Some are simply dropped from the rolls if they fail too many courses or miss too many days of school and are past the legal dropout age. 
The fourth category is Failing to Succeed: students who fail to succeed in school and attend schools that fail to provide them with the environments and supports they need to succeed.
For some, initial failure is the result of poor academic preparation. For others, it is rooted in unmet social-emotional needs. Few students drop out after their first failure. Instead, most persevere for  years, dropping out only after falling so far behind that success eludes them or they are beaten down by repeated failure.
 Despite the turgid prose and tendency to lump together dissimilar reasons for dropping out, these four categories are worth considering. Eclectically adapted to local educational environments, they could help identify relevant reasons why students drop out, and how to stem dropout trends with proactive programs designed to enhance student retention.
Fortunately, many schools around the nation are reducing their dropout rates. By identifying the specific reasons their students are considering quitting school, they are positioned to assist and encourage them to stay in school. For those who’ve already dropped out, many schools are also working hard and smart to lure them back.
Clearly, keeping potential dropouts in school or getting them back into school requires concerted commitment on the part of parents, teachers, school administrators, and students them-selves. Working together, they can create a culture of success that pays dividends in student retention and higher graduation rates.
More on some of these “success stories” next week.
Retired Army Col. Thomas B. Vaughn can be reached at