Dropout Prevention: Who Solves the Problem?

by | Nov 3, 2015 | Dropout Prevention, Student Engagement

In 1995, I read the novel “The Horse Whisperer” by Nicholas Evans and remember one passage in which a mother is seeking assistance from a horse whisperer asking him “Are you the one who helps people with horse problems?” to which he responds “No, I am the one who helps horses with people problems?”

The past week, as I participated in the National Dropout Prevention Network Annual Conference in San Antonio, Texas and had the opportunity to engage with many adults and several middle and high school students, I thought back to the question and response in “The Horse Whisperer”.  Do we think dropout prevention is a student problem to be solved by adults or a more comprehensive problem to be resolved collaboratively engaging youth and adults?

Earlier, I shared a blog “Relationships and Relevancy Matter” in which I shared the experiences, insights and strategies students shared to address the dropout challenge we currently face in our nation.  Two common themes emerged as they shared their experiences one was the importance of relationships and the other is how critical relevancy is to student positive development.

They shared that negative relationships in a school impede student development while positive trusting relationships contribute to positive student development.  Likewise the more relevant school experiences are to students’ lives the more connected they feel to courses, lessons and the education process.

These experiences and responses led me to my question on whether dropout prevention is a student problem to be solved by adults or a more comprehensive problem to be resolved collaboratively?

My experiences and analysis of the students’ insights lead me to believe dropout prevention is a comprehensive problem that has multiple causes and thus requires collaborative strategies and engagement to address and solve it.

The causes of dropping out of schools include those that are school-based, individual-based, family-based, work-based, community-based and/ a combination of these causes.  And when we consider research-based strategies that reduce dropout prevention the National Dropout Prevention Center has identified 15 strategies that align with these causes.  To examine these strategies in detail please visit http://dropoutprevention.org/effective-strategies/overview/

The point I want to make and encourage you to consider is that we should focus our dropout prevention efforts on multiple engagement strategies so that all education stakeholders are part of the solutions.  Asking students to share their experiences and insights assists us to create the best school and classroom conditions for their positive development; engaging parents in motivating and educating their daughters and sons and sharing their experiences with teachers connects school and family life; establishing school structures that meet the needs of students and adults alike requires engaging both in deliberations and decisions; and connecting with school leaders and district policymakers narrows the divide between policy and practices that are most effective to reduce dropout rates.

So to answer the initial question: Do we think dropout prevention is a student problem to be solved by adults or a more comprehensive problem to be resolved collaboratively engaging youth and adults?  I believe that the causes are complex and thus the corresponding strategies must engage all stakeholders, including students.  The dropout rates are recorded in school but have consequences for all stakeholders, thus let’s engage all education stakeholders in dropout prevention efforts.

Terry Pickeral
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Terry Pickeral

Terry Pickeral, has extensive experience in policy development, advocacy, education reform, youth leadership, teaching and learning strategies, education collaborations, evaluation and civic development. His commitment is to ensuring schools create and sustain quality teaching and learning environments for all students to be successful in school and contribute to their communities as active principled citizens.
Terry Pickeral
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