Report Identifies "Expectations Gap" and the Need for More Support at Home as Major Factors in the Rising Tide of High School Dropouts
Washington, District of Columbia, June 4, 2009 | AT&T press release
With nearly one-third of all U.S. public high school students failing to graduate each year, AT&T* today announced results from the latest study conducted by Civic Enterprises and Peter Hart Research with America’s Promise Alliance entitled “On the Front Lines of Schools,” where the voices of our nation’s education practitioners reflect their outlook on the high school dropout crisis.
The research, which focuses on the educator perspective, follows two other seminal education studies: “The Silent Epidemic,” which focused on the dropout perspective, and “One Dream, Two Realities,” which focused on the parent perspective. This new study, “On the Front Lines of Schools,” rounds out the reports, which together represent key voices in the drop-out debate – students, parents and teachers.
Teachers and administrators who are confronted every day with daunting challenges in the classroom, understand the reasons students drop out of school, and express strong support for reforms in our schools to address dropout rates. The research indicates that the views of many teachers are shaped by what they experience first-hand in the classroom. They believe in large part that they and their students are not receiving the necessary support and resources to achieve success, and as a result, many are skeptical that all students can be successfully educated for college.
One of the key findings from the research was the identification of an “expectations gap” between teachers and students. In “The Silent Epidemic,” two-thirds of dropouts said they would have worked harder if more had been demanded of them in the classroom. However, this latest study revealed that educators did not share that view. In fact 75 percent of teachers and 66 percent of principals did not believe students at risk of dropping out would have worked harder if more were demanded of them. Moreover, less than one-third of teachers said they believed “schools should expect all students to meet high academic standards, graduate with the skills to do college level work, and provide extra support to struggling students to help them meet those standards.”
“This expectations gap between students and teachers – which our research shows is very real – may be one of the most important barriers to closing the achievement gap,” said John Bridgeland, President & CEO, Civic Enterprises, LLC. Research has shown the importance of high expectations in boosting student achievement.
Why Students Drop out
Teachers and principals identified many reasons why students drop out, reflecting a deep understanding of the complexity of the problem. They recognize that most students that fail to graduate were capable of doing so, but failed to complete high school for a variety of reasons – ranging from a lack of support at home and academic preparation to chronic absenteeism and the press of real life events. Most cite the need for more parental involvement and support at home as a core issue. In fact, 61 percent of teachers and 45 percent of principals felt lack of support at home was a factor in most cases of students’ dropping out, with 89 percent of teachers and 88 percent of principals saying it was a factor in at least some cases.
Previous research has shown that nearly half of dropouts interviewed said they left school because they found it uninteresting and did not see the relevance of school to real life. On the Front Lines of Schools showed that 42 percent of teachers questioned this claim – however half of all teachers and nearly seven in 10 principals felt these former students were speaking to an important cause.
What Could Help Students Stay in School
In spite of some skepticism over dropout statistics and differing views about where the responsibility lies, educators universally recognize that changes are needed, and for the most part agree on ways to move forward. Practitioners express strong support for reforms such as early warning systems, parent engagement strategies, rigorous alternative learning communities, expanded college-level learning opportunities and connecting classroom learning with real world experiences – all methods that the research tells us would help reduce the dropout rate. However, the study concludes that none of these efforts are likely to yield success if not backed by the fundamental belief that all students should be expected to meet high academic standards and graduate fully prepared for college or the workforce.
The disparities in what dropouts, parents, and practitioners point to as the root cause issues makes it clear that these audiences must be brought together to sort through the differences. A number of stakeholder groups agree, including Bob Wise from Alliance for Excellent Education who said: “What is really compelling is how the report reveals the vastly different perspectives between teachers and students. On the Front Lines of Schools can surely help inform public policy surrounding this issue by highlighting these differences in attitude, and the critical need to bring these groups together.”
AT&T is taking significant steps to help make this happen. The Aspire program is underwriting follow-up research including face-to-face focus groups with Civic Enterprises and Peter Hart research between teachers, parents and students, to help facilitate and address communication gaps among these critical groups, as well as online dialogues with practitioners and other education experts facilitated through Education Week.
“We applaud John Bridgeland and the Peter Hart Research team for the important work they have done going directly to the source – students, parents and now teachers and principals – to determine why students drop out and recommendations for ways forward,” said Laura Sanford, president, AT&T Foundation. “We were very pleased to fund this groundbreaking research initiative as part of our AT&T Aspire high school success program and we are heartened by the response of the education community, which views the findings as critical for charting the course towards increased high school graduation rates.“
About AT&T Aspire
In an effort to encourage American high school students to stay in school and increase their competitiveness with counterparts from other countries, AT&T and the AT&T Foundation launched the Aspire program in April 2008. This is a $100 million initiative that supports the tremendous work already being done by education practitioners to promote high school success and workforce readiness. In its first year, the program is supporting four primary components: grants to schools and nonprofits that help students stay in school and prepare for college or the workforce, a companywide job shadowing program in conjunction with Junior Achievement, helping to fund 100 community dropout prevention summits organized by America’s Promise Alliance, and aligning with John Bridgeland of Civic Enterprises and Peter D. Hart Research Associates for this study.