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New Report Details High School Dropout Prevention Efforts

Most school districts offer some sort of dropout prevention program.

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Most high school districts offer some sort of dropout prevention program, according to a new report released last week by the National Center for Education Statistics.

A large majority of high schools (approximately 8 in 10) offer services such as tutoring and remediation classes for students who have fallen behind, but less than half of school districts offer an after-school program for high school students at risk of not graduating.

Even fewer districts have high schools that offer professional mentors for students, which experts say is one of the most effective ways of keeping a child in school. Just 12 percent of school districts keep a professional mentor on staff, and about 30 percent of districts have community volunteers who mentor students.

Schools are graduating more students than in the past, according to a June report by Education Week. About 72 percent of public school students from the class of 2008 graduated on time, which was a 6 percentage-point increase from the 1997 rate.

[Learn how reducing the dropout rate would improve the economy.]

Experts say that most districts are looking at the right factors to identify students who are at risk of dropping out. According to the NCES report, 76 percent of districts look at a student's academic failure, 64 percent of districts look at a student's attendance, and 45 percent of districts look at a student's behavior in class.

About 90 percent of high school dropouts are chronically truant, meaning they had missed 20 days or more of school, before making the decision to leave school permanently, according to Robert Balfanz, a Johns Hopkins University researcher. Truant students often fall behind their classmates before dropping out.

[Learn about dropout prevention services sponsored by public broadcasting.]

"Getting [chronically truant students] back into school and feeling like they have a stake in their education is very difficult," says John Feinblatt, a policy adviser for New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Feinblatt oversees a task force designed to combat truancy in the city.

According to the NCES report, similar dropout prevention services are offered in high-poverty districts as are offered in more affluent areas, even though more than half of the nation's dropouts come from high schools that graduate fewer than 60 percent of incoming freshmen. According to a report authored by Balfanz, there are more than 1,600 of these so-called "dropout factories," mainly in poor areas, both urban and rural.

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