Washington University study: More math and science requirements may lead to more dropouts

24 Aug

Caralee Adams wrote in the Education Week article, Why High School Students Drop Out and Efforts to Re-Engage:

Parenthood—either being a parent or missing out on parental support—is the leading reason cited by dropouts for leaving school, according to a new survey.
The 2012 High School Dropouts in America survey was released today by Harris/Decima, a division of Harris Interactive, on behalf of Everest College, a part of the for-profit Corinthian College Inc.
The poll was commissioned to help policymakers and educators understand why students drop out of high school and find effective ways to re-engage them in the hope of improving graduation rates.
The survey asked 513 adults, ages 19 to 35: “Which, if any, of the following reasons prevented you from finishing high school?” Here are the responses:
1. Absence of parental support or encouragement (23 percent)
2. Becoming a parent (21 percent)
3. Lacking the credits needed to graduate (17 percent)
4. Missing too many days of school (17 percent)
5. Failing classes (15 percent)
6. Uninteresting classes (15 percent)
7. Experiencing a mental illness, such as depression (15 percent)
8. Having to work to support by family (12 percent)
9. Was bullied and didn’t want to return (12 percent)
In the survey, conducted online in October, 55 percent of the dropouts looked into, but had not started the process of getting their high school equivalency or GED. The likelihood of doing so is higher for those who are married (67 percent). The reasons for not getting a GED: “not having enough time” (34 percent) and “it costs too much” (26 percent).
One-third of high school dropouts say they are employed either full time, part time, or are self‐employed. Another 38 percent of the men and 26 percent of the women were unemployed.
Attracting young adults who have dropped out back for more education is a challenge.
Often students don’t want to return to the same school they left and are looking for flexible options. One approach that is showing promise is the Boston Public Re-Engagement Center. There, students can retake up to two courses they previously failed; try online credit recovery, or attend night school or summer school. Coming into the program, out-of-school youths are connected with an adult to discuss goals, finances, and enrollment options. http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/college_bound/2012/11/examining_reasons_for_dropping_out_of_high_school_and_ways_to_re-engage_students.html

There is a reluctance to promote vocational opportunities in the U.S. because there is a fear of tracking individuals into vocational training and denying certain groups access to a college education. The comprise could be a combination of both quality technical training with a solid academic foundation. Individuals may have a series of careers over the course of a career and a solid foundation which provides a degree of flexibility is desired for survival in the future. See, Why go to college? https://drwilda.wordpress.com/2011/11/28/why-go-to-college/

Henry M. Levin and Cecilia E. Rouse opine in their New York Times opinion piece, The True Cost of High School Dropouts:

In 1970, the United States had the world’s highest rate of high school and college graduation. Today, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, we’ve slipped to No. 21 in high school completion and No. 15 in college completion, as other countries surpassed us in the quality of their primary and secondary education.
Only 7 of 10 ninth graders today will get high school diplomas. A decade after the No Child Left Behind law mandated efforts to reduce the racial gap, about 80 percent of white and Asian students graduate from high school, compared with only 55 percent of blacks and Hispanics.
Like President Obama, many reformers focus their dropout prevention efforts on high schoolers; replacing large high schools with smaller learning communities where poor students can get individualized instruction from dedicated teachers has been shown to be effective. Rigorous evidence gathered over decades suggests that some of the most promising approaches need to start even earlier: preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds, who are fed and taught in small groups, followed up with home visits by teachers and with group meetings of parents; reducing class size in the early grades; and increasing teacher salaries from kindergarten through 12th grade….
If we could reduce the current number of dropouts by just half, we would yield almost 700,000 new graduates a year, and it would more than pay for itself. Studies show that the typical high school graduate will obtain higher employment and earnings — an astonishing 50 percent to 100 percent increase in lifetime income — and will be less likely to draw on public money for health care and welfare and less likely to be involved in the criminal justice system. Further, because of the increased income, the typical graduate will contribute more in tax revenues over his lifetime than if he’d dropped out.
When the costs of investment to produce a new graduate are taken into account, there is a return of $1.45 to $3.55 for every dollar of investment, depending upon the educational intervention strategy. Under this estimate, each new graduate confers a net benefit to taxpayers of about $127,000 over the graduate’s lifetime. This is a benefit to the public of nearly $90 billion for each year of success in reducing the number of high school dropouts by 700,000 — or something close to $1 trillion after 11 years. That’s real money — and a reason both liberals and conservatives should rally behind dropout prevention as an element of economic recovery, leaving aside the ethical dimensions of educating our young people….
Proven educational strategies to increase high school completion, like high-quality preschool, provide returns to the taxpayer that are as much as three and a half times their cost. Investing our public dollars wisely to reduce the number of high school dropouts must be a central part of any strategy to raise long-run economic growth, reduce inequality and return fiscal health to our federal, state and local governments. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/26/opinion/the-true-cost-of-high-school-dropouts.html?_r=1&emc=eta1

In order to compete internationally, the U.S. must have an educated workforce and high school is the first step for college and additional vocational training. Are the high school options so narrowly tailored to focus only on college?

Science Digest reported in the article, Unintended consequences: More high school math, science linked to more dropouts:

“There’s been a movement to make education in the United States compare more favorably to education in the rest of the world, and part of that has involved increasing math and science graduation requirements,” explained first author Andrew D. Plunk, PhD, a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine.
“There was an expectation that this was going to be good for students, but the evidence from our analyses suggests that many students ended up dropping out when school was made harder for them,” he added.
Studying census data going back to 1990, the researchers showed that the U.S. dropout rate rose to a high of 11.4 percent when students were required to take six math and science courses, compared with 8.6 percent for students who needed fewer math and science courses to graduate. Results also varied by gender, race and ethnicity with the dropout rate for some groups increasing by as much as 5 percentage points.
Plunk and his colleagues studied census data that tracks educational attainment. The researchers compared the performance of students in states with more rigorous math and science requirements to students in states where these requirements were less stringent.
“As graduation requirements were strengthened, high school dropout rates increased across the whole population,” Plunk said. “But African-Americans and Hispanics were especially affected. I think our findings highlight the need to anticipate there may be unintended consequences, especially when there are broad mandates that, in effect, make high school coursework harder.”
The researchers looked at student outcomes in 44 states where more stringent graduation requirements went into effect during the 1980s and 1990s. They used the data to examine how factors such as sex, race, ethnicity and moving from state to state, together with the tougher requirements, influenced educational attainment.
Among Hispanic males, the dropout rate increased 2.5 percentage points, and among African-American males, the rate rose by 2 points. The overall dropout rate for African-American males was 19 percent on average. But for young African-American males who went to schools in states with the most stringent math and science graduation requirements, the dropout rate rose to 23 percent…. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/07/140731201000.htm

Citation:

Unintended consequences: More high school math, science linked to more dropouts
Date: July 31, 2014

Source: Washington University in St. Louis
Summary:
As U.S. high schools beef up math and science requirements for graduation, researchers have found that more rigorous academics drive some students to drop out.

Here is the press release from Washington University:

Unintended consequences: More high school math, science linked to more dropouts
July 31, 2014
By Jim Dryden
Robert Boston
As math and science requirements for high school graduation have become more rigorous, dropout rates across the United States have risen, according to research at Washington University in St. Louis. The tougher requirements appear to have had a major effect on high school graduation rates of Hispanic and African-American males.
As U.S. high schools beef up math and science requirements for graduation, researchers at Washington University in St. Louis have found that more rigorous academics drive some students to drop out.
The research team reported in the June/July issue of the journal Educational Researcher that policies increasing the number of required high school math and science courses are linked to higher dropout rates.
“There’s been a movement to make education in the United States compare more favorably to education in the rest of the world, and part of that has involved increasing math and science graduation requirements,” explained first author Andrew D. Plunk, PhD, a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine.
“There was an expectation that this was going to be good for students, but the evidence from our analyses suggests that many students ended up dropping out when school was made harder for them,” he added.
Studying census data going back to 1990, the researchers showed that the U.S. dropout rate rose to a high of 11.4 percent when students were required to take six math and science courses, compared with 8.6 percent for students who needed fewer math and science courses to graduate. Results also varied by gender, race and ethnicity with the dropout rate for some groups increasing by as much as 5 percentage points.
Plunk and his colleagues studied census data that tracks educational attainment. The researchers compared the performance of students in states with more rigorous math and science requirements to students in states where these requirements were less stringent.
“As graduation requirements were strengthened, high school dropout rates increased across the whole population,” Plunk said. “But African-Americans and Hispanics were especially affected. I think our findings highlight the need to anticipate there may be unintended consequences, especially when there are broad mandates that, in effect, make high school coursework harder.”
The researchers looked at student outcomes in 44 states where more stringent graduation requirements went into effect during the 1980s and 1990s. They used the data to examine how factors such as sex, race, ethnicity and moving from state to state, together with the tougher requirements, influenced educational attainment.
Among Hispanic males, the dropout rate increased 2.5 percentage points, and among African-American males, the rate rose by 2 points. The overall dropout rate for African-American males was 19 percent on average. But for young African-American males who went to schools in states with the most stringent math and science graduation requirements, the dropout rate rose to 23 percent.
Co-author William F. Tate, PhD, dean of the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences and vice provost for graduate education, said that part of the problem with adding math and science courses to requirements for high school graduation was that a significant number of students weren’t prepared to meet the new requirements.
“Many students were ill-prepared for the tougher standards,” said Tate, the Edward Mallinckrodt Distinguished University Professor in Arts & Sciences. “Going forward, state policymakers must understand that students can’t take more math and science courses if they quit school.”
Plunk explained that as a health researcher, he is interested in the effects that higher dropout rates have on public health.
“High school education is very highly correlated with health outcomes,” he said. “Individuals who drop out of high school report more health problems and lower quality of life. Higher dropout rates also can strain the welfare system, which can affect people’s health.”
In addition to measuring dropout rates, the researchers analyzed the effects of math and science graduation requirements on college enrollment and on the likelihood that students would earn college degrees. They found mixed results.
As would be expected, the more high school dropouts, the lower the rate of college enrollment. But among those who did finish high school and go to college, there was good news, particularly for Hispanic students whose families didn’t move frequently to new states or school districts.

“If their families didn’t move frequently and they attended schools with tougher math and science requirements, the likelihood that Hispanic males would earn a college degree of some kind increased more than 6.3 percentage points,” Plunk said. “For Hispanic females, there was an increase of just over 5.3 points.”
Plunk said the study shows that a “one-size-fits-all” approach to educational requirements is not ideal because the effect on various demographic groups, states and school districts is likely to be very different.

What’s certain, he explained, is that when educational policies produce an unintended consequence like larger numbers of dropouts, the effects of those policies reverberate far beyond the classroom.
“Communities with higher dropout rates tend to have increased crime,” Plunk said. “Murders are more common. In fact, a previous study estimated that a 1 percent reduction in the country’s high school dropout rate could result in 400 fewer murders and 8,000 fewer assaults per year. Unfortunately, our finding of a 1 percent increase in the dropout rate suggests we are going in the wrong direction.”
________________________________________
This study was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Washington University Institute for Public Health. NIH grant numbers T32 DA07313 and R01 DA031288.
Plunk AD, Tate WF, Bierut LJ, Grucza RA. Intended and unintended effects of state-mandated high school science and mathematics course graduation requirements on educational attainment. Educational Researcher, vol. 43(5), June/July 2014. First published online June 18, 2014. doi:10.3102/0013189X14540207
Washington University School of Medicine’s 2,100 employed and volunteer faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals. The School of Medicine is one of the leading medical research, teaching and patient care institutions in the nation, currently ranked sixth in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Through its affiliations with Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals, the School of Medicine is linked to BJC HealthCare.

There shouldn’t be a one size fits all in education and parents should be honest about what education options will work for a particular child. Even children from the same family may find that different education options will work for each child.

Resources:

School Dropout Rates Add To Fiscal Burden http://www.npr.org/2011/07/24/138653393/school-dropout-rates-adds-to-fiscal-burden

The Facts: National Dropout Rates http://boostup.org/en/facts/statistics

Related:

Dropout prevention: More schools offering daycare for students
https://drwilda.com/2013/01/14/dropout-prevention-more-schools-offering-daycare-for-students/

Montgomery County Public Schools study: Identifying potential dropouts early
https://drwilda.com/2013/07/29/montgomery-county-public-schools-study-identifying-potential-dropouts-early/

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