One in five Massachusetts students does not graduate from high school in four years. At a time when a high school diploma is essential to ensuring future success, such large numbers of students struggling to earn a diploma is cause for concern. Yet, there are Massachusetts schools and districts making progress; a review of district data over the past four years revealed that several districts and schools throughout the Commonwealth are steadily reducing their dropout rates. The Rennie Center's latest policy brief, Meeting the Challenge: Promising Practices for Reducing the Dropout Rate in Massachusetts Schools and Districts analyzes practices and policies within these schools and districts to help inform the work of educators and policymakers and to address the question: "In schools that are reducing their dropout rates, what is working?"
The Rennie Center's research is based on interviews with district leaders and principals from 11 high schools in 9 Massachusetts districts that have reduced their student dropout rates over the past four years. Through these interviews, several themes emerged. Nearly all of these districts and schools: 1) used data to identify students at-risk of dropping out (including early indicators of potential dropouts and high school attendance); 2) offered targeted interventions such as personalizing the learning environment and supporting the transition to ninth grade; 3) connected high school to college and careers; 4) provided alternatives to traditional high school; and 5) formed collaborations and partnerships to bring in additional resources for students at-risk of dropping out.
Considerations Based On Findings
The Importance of Leadership - All of the schools studied in this policy brief had leaders who initiated and sustained a focus on students at-risk of dropping out. These leaders placed a high value on struggling students and emphasized the needs of these students with their entire faculty so that adults in the school felt a sense of ownership for the outcomes of these students.
No Silver Bullets - Students at-risk of dropping out have varied needs and the schools studied in this brief provided a correspondingly diverse set of interventions and supports to address students' behavioral/emotional and academic needs.
Persistent Effort Over Time - It is important to note that for the schools that participated in this study, there have been no quick fixes. The success of these schools' efforts has been dependent on a sustained focus on the needs of these learners and a steadfast commitment of resources over time.
More Than Academics - Rather than focusing exclusively on providing academic supports for students at-risk of dropping out, the schools studied in this brief combined academic support with initiatives to foster students' increased engagement in school.
Follow-Up with Dropouts - Most of the schools did not follow up with students once they had dropped out - either to find out why they had dropped out, or to encourage them to return to some course of study that would lead to a diploma. This is an area that warrants future attention.
The policy brief was the subject of discussion at a public event on February 12, 2009. For more information about the dropout crisis in Massachusetts, visit: www.projectdropout.org.