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Are Dropout Decisions Related to Safety Concerns, Social Isolation, and Teacher Disparagement?

Authors: Stefanie DeLuca, James E. Rosenbaum
Date Published: January 01, 2001

It is clear that the students who suffer from isolation and threats from peers do not feel supported by teachers. In some cases, perceived teacher disparagement has stronger relationships with these outcomes than peer influences.
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While some other nations are on the verge of universal secondary education, the U.S. completion rate has stubbornly plateaued at a lower level. Much research to date has focused on the relationships between various student characteristics and behaviors and the incidence of high school dropout. Traditional research on the individual level causes of high school dropout shows that socio-economic context and race/ethnicity are among the most important predictors of subsequent drop out (Alexander, Ackland, and Griffin, 1976; Ekstrom, Goertz, Pollack, and Rock, 1986; Rumberger, 1983). Low standardized test scores and poor school performance are also associated with higher dropout rates (Bachmann, Green, Wirtanen, 1971; Coombs and Cooley, 1986; Rumberger, Ghatak et al, 1990). Student attitudes, plans and behaviors are also related to dropout, and students who drop out report higher levels of dissatisfaction and alienation from school and lower levels of self-esteem (Bachmann et al, 1971).

In addition to student level explanations for dropout, there has been a great deal of research on organizational processes and ways that school personnel exert control over dropout decisions. Although expulsion is relatively rare (Lawrence, 1998, p. 103), schools use administrative procedures which accomplish the same ends with age cut-offs, grade point average minimums and attendance regulations (Elliot and Voss, 1974; Gottfredson and Gottfredson, 1985; Mann, 1987; Riehl, 1999; Toby, 1983). Bryk and Thum (1989) also argue that school structure, social organization, and ethos all significantly affect student retention and alienation.

The present study contributes to both of these literatures by investigating a phenomenon related to both individual and school level characteristics——school safety. Safety is a major concern. Its importance has been underscored with recent national events involving school shootings. Reports of inner city school violence, which have refocused the public’’s attention on school safety (Kaufman et al, 1998). Although schools are usually safer than their neighborhoods (Lawrence, 1998), a national survey indicates that in 1992 (the year we are studying), 14.0% of students report being threatened with a weapon, and 24.6% threatened without a weapon, while 5.1% were injured with a weapon, and 12.8% injured without a weapon (Condition of Education, 1999, p. 80). These events may have a profound influence on students and their likelihood to stay in school, though little research has examined the causal relationships between school safety and academic outcomes.

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