The Study of Student Retention and its Effectiveness in an Urban School District High School "Reach Out to Dropouts" Initiative



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Currently, the United States is graduating only 70% of its population. The American dream will be difficult to obtain without a high school education in a 21st century global society. Moreover, according to Lange (2004), America’s premier academic ranking is diminishing in comparison to other countries. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development places the United States 18th among the 36 nations affiliated with their organization; with South Korea being ranked 1st with a graduation rate of 93%. This continued concern addressed by several presidential administrations including the former President of the United States, George W. Bush. His administration established the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 and the current President of the United States, Barack Obama, who recently addressed the high school dropout rate in the Blueprint for Reform of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 2011. These federally mandated charges have obligated school districts across the country to develop action plans to address student needs. In the state of Texas, the Texas Education Agency enacted the Student Success Initiative designed to assist students considered ‘at risk’ in meeting state and district educational goals. Meeting this need has also become an integral part of the state’s Expectation Graduation program. Under this program, urban school districts in the Texas developed and implemented an initiative known as the Reach Out to Dropouts annual walk. During this walk, thousands of educators knock on the doors of student labeled ‘dropouts’ with the hope of returning them to school. vi The purpose of this study is to analyze the effectiveness of this annual walk. Namely, this study asks the following questions: Do the targeted students return, complete and or graduate? This study disaggregates the data provided by an urban district in which approximately 600 students targeted to return to high school before and after the annual walk. From these targeted 600 students, a convenience sample consisting of 251 students derived from the archival. From those 251 convenience sample students used from the archival data obtained during the research, 43 students returned, completed or graduated. This study investigates why seven of the 43 students that returned completed or graduated after the annual walk – namely, what influencing factors contributed to their decision to return, and what influenced them to remain in high school as adult students. An analysis of the interviews yields the students’ own explanations that substantiate the characteristics or ‘risk factors’ known to high school dropouts, but inspire educators to continue to establish positive relationships and focus on learner centered instruction. This study is a growing part of a body of research on student retention as related to high school drop outs. Student retention is based on the verb ‘retain’ or ‘keep’. Using the archival data provided by an urban school district in Texas and the rich interviews of returning adult students targeted after the annual Reach Out to Dropouts walk, this study solidify through lived experiences data heard throughout the media.



High school, Retention, High school graduation rates, High school dropout rate, Student retention, Graduation rates, Dropouts