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Solving the Dropout Crisis: Sets of Solutions
The president’s emphasis on dropout prevention has good cause: in 17 of the 50 largest cities, the majority of students who start high school fail to graduate. And that understates the problem, because it disregards those who drop out before 9th grade. The biggest difference between urban schools where students graduate and those where students don’t is the sense of active membership in a community of shared purpose.
Research about the causes
The Gates Foundation asked “How do students explain the causes?” They heard: lack of connection (again), boredom, lack of motivation (expectations too low, not too high), academic problems, and problems outside school.
The National Dropout Prevention Network went further still to examine the “why behind the why.” They identified a whole range of risk factors that exist within students, in their families, between them and their peers, in their schools, in their neighborhoods, and in social structures of inequality. As these risk factors are piled on, the chance of dropping out increases. No wonder NDPN also identified resilience as the personal characteristic that could most predict school success among students at risk.
What can be done
The data and conclusions drawn from it can be overwhelming. There is not one symptom that precedes dropping out, there are at least five that can be precursors. There is not one cause for each symptom, there are many, and they operate in multiple domains. And there is not one best measure for dealing with either symptoms or causes, there are a whole body of proven effective strategies. Each has been proven to work with some students, in some settings. Many are expensive or difficult to implement.
Ripple Effects can be a big part of a successful program. Eight randomized, controlled trials and three quasi-experimental studies have shown that student use of Ripple Effects software has positively impacted all five of the school markers that Achieve Inc./Carnegie Foundation says predict dropping out. One of those studies showed a statistically significant reduction in dropout rates for users of the program the next year. (Research article) It also has been shown to significantly increase two important aspects of resilience: problem solving and empathy. And exposing one group of students to Ripple Effects training in empathy and social skills has resulted in the other group feeling more connected – a constant theme through all these studies. An example of a multi-faceted approach to a solution is in a program at Belmont High School in LAUSD, called Juvenile Intervention and Prevention Program and here is the video case study.
The Ripple Effects student programs both promote core social-emotional abilities and addresses more than 150 individual risk factors. The professional development programs train teachers and staff in key skills related to successful prevention programs.
Is Ripple Effects “the” solution to the drop out problem? Of course not. Can it be an effective part of a set of strategies to address the issue on many levels in many settings? The evidence suggests that it can be.