School Dropouts: Education Could Play a Stronger Role in Identifying and Disseminating Promising Prevention Strategies

GAO-02-240 Published: Feb 01, 2002. Publicly Released: Feb 05, 2002.
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The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports that the national status dropout rate--the percentage of 16- through 24-year olds who are not enrolled in school and who lack a high school diploma or a high school equivalency certificate--fluctuated between 10.9 and 12.5 percent between 1990 and 2000. However, dropout rates have varied considerably between regions of the country and among ethnic groups. Research has shown that dropping out it is a long-term process of disengagement that begins in the earliest grades. NCES and private research organizations have identified two factors--an individual's family and his or her experience in school--that are related to dropping out. Various state, local, and private programs are available to assist youth at risk of dropping out of school. These programs range in scope from small-scale supplementary services that target a small group of students, such as mentoring or counseling services, to comprehensive school-wide restructuring efforts that involve changing the entire school to improve educational opportunities for all students. One federal program, the Dropout Prevention Demonstration Program, is specifically targeted to dropouts, but the program is new and the Department of Education has yet to evaluate its effectiveness. In September 2001, the program awarded grants to state and local education agencies working to reduce the number of school dropouts. Other federal programs have dropout prevention as one of their multiple objectives, and many more federal programs serve at-risk youth but do not have dropout prevention as a stated program goal.

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Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Education The Secretary of Education should (1) evaluate the quality of existing dropout prevention research, (2) determine how best to encourage or sponsor the rigorous evaluation of the most promising state and local dropout prevention programs and practices, and (3) determine the most effective means of disseminating the results of these and other available studies to state and local entities interested in reducing dropout rates.
Closed – Implemented
In April 2005, the Department of Education, through the "What Works" Clearinghouse", began reviewing 1,038 dropout prevention studies. To date, it has identified 15-18 potentially effective interventions that pass evidence standards. Education has also implemented a School Dropout Prevention National Recognition Program to recognize schools whose programs have successfully reduced high dropout levels. Education plans to release the first reports on effective dropout interventions in early 2006 through the Clearinghouse website, which is an easily accessible and searchable online database, and to complete and disseminate all dropout prevention reports by the end of 2006.

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