Examining the effectiveness of dropout prevention practices and their implications for intervention with public school students
Schools face the dilemma of transforming both the trend of students dropping out of school and the associated negative socioeconomic outcomes into a positive path of persistence and school completion. Despite ongoing efforts of the federal and state government, as well as those of the local school districts, this problem continues to burden the educational system and society as a whole. The opinions of those with the experience of dropping out and returning to school are pertinent sources of information on educative practices that can help stem the dropout rate. A survey was conducted to gather the opinions of students regarding dropout prevention practice they feel would be effective to deter students from dropping out of public schools. These students were previous dropouts who had elected to enroll in a GED program in a community college in a mid-South state. Frequency distributions identified the demographic characteristics of the sample population, which was consistent with the literature for at-risk populations. Mixed methodology statistical testing was used to analyze the results. Descriptive statistical summaries rated practices under each of four constructs according to the degree that each was likely to support student persistence and deter dropping out. The results indicated that the sample population generally agreed that dropout prevention practices are effective for dropout prevention; however, some practices were weakly supported. The highest mean score among the four sub-scales was given to In-School Support Programs, and more specifically, to items that addressed tutoring after school and increased instruction for social skills, mathematics, and reading in early years. The next highest overall mean score from the constructs was given to School Climate, with items concerning experienced teachers and safe schools having the highest mean scores. The highest ratings for the items under the construct of School Intervention Programs were given to learning through real-life projects, ordinary classroom learning, intervention to prevent dropping out that begins in high school and principals who are more involved with students. The last construct of School/Home/Community Involvement received the lowest overall mean score from the responses, which is contrary to the literature. The mean scores in this construct ranged from just above a neither agree nor disagree scale to mildly agree , with no strong agreement on any item or construct. Significance testing results indicated that there were no significant relationships among the perspectives of the sample population and their demographic characteristics. Results from the qualitative study generated from an open-ended item on beliefs about the effectiveness of dropout prevention practices differed in several areas. The highest number of responses from coded items was under the theme of School Climate, followed by Innovative Learning and Instruction, and School/Home/Community Involvement, which differed from the findings in the quantitative portion of the study. However, the qualitative study broadened the interpretation of the some elements of the quantitative results. Those areas were age at the time dropout prevention was initiated, and school climate. From these findings implications for implementation of effective practices for dropout prevention in public schools were methods of supporting positive school climate through professional development for teachers and staff on caring and supportive instructional behaviors, collaborations with home and community for safe school plans, after-school provided tutoring and youth programs, school-backed but community-based early childhood programs for math, reading, and social skills, and school leadership in touch with students and their needs. The study also addressed recommendations for policy and future research.