High School Dropout Rates: A Social Issue

By Whitney Gallup

One of the greater issues facing the youth of the country is the high school dropout rate. Every year we experience over a million students who drop out due to various circumstances. While the high school percentages in the U.S. are lower than they were forty years ago, there is still a lot of room for improvement. In 2010, the rate of students receiving a diploma had risen ten percent, but that number still showed a great discrepancy between the number of Asian-American and white students compared to their Latino and African-American colleagues.  According to the Bureau of Labor, statistics show high school dropouts have a harder time finding jobs than people who have graduated high school (Fact Sheet, 2017)


The issue of the high school dropout rate is not only conducive of a social issue in the schools themselves. Those same students will also experience lower wages than their friends who finished their schooling. It is also shown that seventy-five percent of all crimes are committed by these former students. This shows that the issues from the lower graduation continue to show as a problem well into their adult lives. It becomes difficult for the former students to become contributing members of society.

These issues that are presented with the high school dropout rate seem to mostly fit into two categories. That would be the meso and macro level of issues.  The macro level of sociological problems mostly relates to the issues of governments and policies. In this case that would come from the Department of Education and the School Boards of the respective districts. The second level that is mostly affected is the meso level. This level deals mostly with the child’s environment and upbringing, including the student’s community. While there’s still some factors that are relevant in the micro level it is not as prominent as the other two.

Starting with the macro level, you find government policies that have contributed to the decline in school performance. This includes laws like the ‘No Child Left Behind Act’. This Act which was passed under the Bush administration was designed to keep students on pace to graduate with their peers. But the policies that were in place many times punishes schools who were underperforming by taking away funding from these districts. This did not help the situation as these underperforming schools were tasked with making cuts that would prevent them from bringing in the quality educators that would turn around the districts scores.

Another governmental situation that contributes to the decline of schools is when funding is cut to the education department the state level. This was seen in Pennsylvania when, at the time, Governor Tom Corbett made four hundred billion dollars in cuts to the education department. This left school districts scrambling to make hearty cuts to teaching staff and resources in order to make up for the lack of state funding they would now receive.

Also in Pennsylvania more recently, state budget negotiations regularly stall preventing school districts from receiving funding on time. This forces schools to take out interest bearing loans that would help them to make ends meet before they receive their funding. These become extra and unforeseen costs to the district that they must now make up for, and any extra cost that is not contributing to the education of the children is only taking away their ability to learn.

This issue also continues into the meso level. The issues that are faced in this level are relevant to the community that is brought up around the schools and the district as a whole. Many of  these underperforming districts are in neighborhoods that have high crime rates and low incomes. These two factors combine to create an environment that is detrimental to learning advancements. This breeds a culture that is cyclical and destructive to itself. Being surrounded by these kinds of factors causes students to stop pursuing their education, then in turn those factors lead to higher crime rates which reduces the quality of the environment they are living in. This continues to contribute to the lower the quality of the education system. (Ballantine, 2017)

These students are not being given the support from the community or in their home life that will help them to succeed. Role models are important to the development of the young children of a community. When the role models are high school dropouts it will be more likely for those students to drop out themselves. This creates a culture where dropping out is the normal and is not always seen as something that is bad. When it is easy for a student to dropout without any kind of repercussions then it becomes a much easier decision to make.

There is sometimes issues that come from the micro level that also contribute to the students lack of success.On the micro level students Candace several different challenges that hurt their educational advancement. This could range from intellectual disabilities, such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder,  to other just poor health. Many times the poor health can come from the meso level with facilities and the community being ill equipped to take care of even the most basic health needs.

These factors contribute to ongoing distractions outside of the classroom which can lead to distractions and lack of effort inside the classroom. Low income families suffer the most, especially as students get older and see more benefit in working to help support their families instead of gaining a further education. This leads them to have lower wage jobs throughout their life which creates again a cycle that is hard to break.

This is a social issue rather than a personal issue because it is affecting a large percentage of our young students across the nation. With a drop out rate of sixty percent in about 2,000 schools across the nation this is an issue that is far spread. One in every six students attend these “Dropout Factories”. When you look at it that way, that means that almost nine million students are in a situation where they are in a school that has an increased dropout rate. This now affects our communities making it more of a social issue. These issues are not limited to one person or because of their own personal choices, but many times are a result of their surroundings. Surroundings that the students have no control over.

When you look at this issue from a sociological imagination standpoint you can see how the different factors that surround these students can influence them into lives that do not support them to achieve anything greater than their current situation. Looking at the different factors that play into their living conditions it is easy to see how the distractions and temptations of outside life would carry into the classroom and take away from their learning environment. The lower grades can lead to an apathetic attitude towards school which causes increased dropout rates.

Many sociologists suggest the structural-functional theory is one of the main reasons for these students to drop out. This is a theory that says that the relationship is one that is interactive with the world around it. Meaning that one situation or issue would cause another one to react either negatively or positively in a circular motion. (Ballantine, 2017)

In this situation we are referring to how poor performance in school leads to a higher dropout rate. That, in turn, leads to an increase in crime in a community which has a negative effect on the schools within that community as well as the students. This would bring us back to the beginning of that circle, poor performance. This kind of cyclical interaction can be seen in many models throughout the structural-functional theory of thought.

These problems with high school dropouts are deeply rooted within their meso level relationships. The community that the student is brought up in has the greatest influence on them. This influence will directly relate to the students health, both physically and mentally, and that influence can steer the student in a negative direction. The districts that are experiencing higher than average crime rates are suffering the most. Many times these students see no other choice than to drop out and support one parent households. These influences, and the cyclical nature of things, will only continue to negatively impact the youth if things are not changed at the community level.

Finally, many factors contribute to the dropout rate of our high school students, but there has not been many solutions provided in order to improve the situation. One of the biggest solutions would be for our government to contribute greater funds to the districts that are at the highest risk. By providing increased funding to these districts it would attract higher quality teachers to the area. The higher quality teachers will be better equipped to motivate students to stay in school and finish their education. This kind of role model would be helpful to the students.

After their time in high school these students will then be more likely to create a culture that will be conducive of success. Studies have shown that students who are in home where the parent did not graduate are more likely to follow in their parents footsteps and also not graduate. This is a necessary step into improving the community. The hope is that after high school many of these students who would not have taken the next step into higher education, will. This will afford them more opportunities to rise above their current situation and improve the community that they were brought up in.



11 Facts About High School Dropout Rates. (n.d.). Retrieved December 01, 2017, from https://www.dosomething.org/us/facts/11-facts-about-high-school-dropout-rates


Fact Sheet: Is the Dropout Problem Real? (n.d.). Retrieved December 01, 2017, from http://www.pbs.org/wnet/tavissmiley/tsr/education-under-arrest/fact-sheet-drop-out-rates-of-african-american-boys/


Ballantine, Jeanne H., et al. Our Social World: Introduction to Sociology. SAGE, 2018.




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