One of the country’s primary concerns at this moment is the troublingly high dropout rate among high school students. There are many reasons for this increase. Most people who explore why this is occurring focus on the gender, race, and socio-economic facets of the issue. These are certainly a significant factor in why students are dropping out of school, but I believe that there are many other causes that do not get sufficient attention. The unexpected effects of No Child Left Behind and cutting certain school programs are rarely considered a possible cause of the dropout crisis.
When No Child Left Behind was initially passed, educators applauded it as an important step toward helping struggling students to meet the educational standard that the United States has set for itself. Given a bit of time, however, students and teachers alike began to see the limitations it put on education. Schools were given a standard that their students had to meet or the school would be fined a penalty. In order to avoid the penalization, teachers quickly adapted and began “teaching to the test.” Students were made to spend hours studying how to take a certain test format, correctly fill in the little bubbles, and learn only what was expected to be on the state-funded tests. As it stands, more of the lowest achievers are meeting the standard. Huzzah. This method, however, leaves the average and above-average students treading water in boring classes chock full of redundancy, memorization, and over-simplification. There is no danger of these students hurting a school’s chances of meeting the state’s expectations so they are ignored until they pose a threat. A year after NCLB was passed, funding for gifted education dropped to near nothing. The rationale behind this decision was that smarter students needed less guidance because they were smart enough that they could figure it out for themselves. Policy makers failed to consider that these students are still kids. The ability to find one’s own way does not necessarily come with the ability to understand math easily. Studies show that about 17 percent of gifted students drop out of school. This is about the same rate as non-gifted students. Ignored students will leave if they have no outside motivation to stay.
Budget cuts also play a major role in inspiring dropouts. When a school’s budget shrinks, the first programs to go are those like art, music, theater, debate, foreign language, and forensics. These are cut because those who oversee the budget cuts see no direct educational benefit in them. Students who do not possess a love of reading, writing, and arithmetic often find their passion lies in the programs most likely to be cut. I, for example, would rather not reveal how many times I have lain in bed and given serious thought to skipping school. The single factor that could pull me away from my Tempur-Pedic pillow is that I do not want to miss another choir rehearsal, day of drawing, or debate discussion. On the other hand, nothing makes my eyelids droop faster than the thought of enduring an hour long physics lecture. When the programs that wake students up in the morning are cut, then schools will see higher dropout rates. Most students have many classes they must take and only a few activities that truly enliven them. They show up to school because they must in order to do what they love. The opportunity to do what they love, whatever it may be, is taken from them. These activities are frequently available outside of school, but at a much greater cost. Many students can only afford to indulge their curiosity through cheap, school-funded activities. A school that does not provide a means for students to express themselves and explore their passions is a school that students will have little motivation to continue to attend.
Lastly, the economic recession forces more low-income students to drop out. Students who come from families with low annual incomes often either perform more poorly or drop out of school entirely when the economy is suffering. These families often desperately need the extra income a student can earn from working part-time or even full-time. When a responsible student must choose between studying for an Anatomy class test and working a few more hours to pay the gas bill, they will have to choose to work.