Civic Enterprises has released its latest study, Raising Their Voices, concerning America's dropout crisis. What resonated with me the most was the voices of the students in the report. Here are some samples:

"To me, high school is like elementary and middle school. It's all the same. We've been doing the same thing over and over again."

"If you just fight your way through it now and get through school ... eventually it will be interesting when you get into your career field."

"I'm going to be honest: school is really, really boring. I hate coming here."

Issue 1: Student boredom

I hate coming here. If you just fight your way through it. The same thing over and over again. These are pretty damning words. They also are pretty common. As the report noted, many students view high school as something that must be tolerated as a stepping-stone to [something] better (emphasis added). 

When's the last time your school organization asked its students how interesting and engaging their classes were (and then took their responses seriously)?

Issue 2: Meaningful community discussion

The researchers brought together students, parents, and teachers in four different communities to collaboratively discuss the high school dropout program in their local area. In each case, individuals remarked that this was the first time that teachers, parents, and students had been brought together to talk about any issue, including the dropout crisis (emphasis added).

When's the last time your school organization had teachers, parents, and students (and, yes, administrators) in the same room talking candidly and safely about important issues?

Issue 3: Disconnects between groups

The report noted that:

while dropouts cited boredom as the leading cause for dropping out, many educators we surveyed did not see this as the central cause. In fact, only 20 percent of teachers saw a student's lack of interest in school as a major factor in most cases of dropout. More than twice as many believed students were making excuses for their failure to graduate. . . .

Additionally, although students said that higher expectations would have mitigated the factors leading to their dropping out, only 32 percent of teachers agreed that we should expect all students to meet high academic standards and graduate with the skills that would enable them to do college-level work, and that we should provide extra support to struggling students to help them meet those standards.

These disconnects exist everywhere, of course. No organization is immune from them. But perception shapes reality. If students say they're bored and teachers just think students are making excuses and don't reflect on their own instructional practices, the problem never gets solved.

When's the last time your school organization intentionally worked to uncover and then meaningfully address existing cognitive, emotional, and perceptual disconnects between groups?


The Raising Their Voices study was conducted on behalf of the AT&T Foundation and the America's Promise Alliance. The report illustrates the kind of conversations that can occur when you bring disparate groups of school stakeholders together. It also shows that disconnects between groups can be effectively bridged through structured dialogue and a spirit of mutual respect. The report includes recruiting instructions and a sample discussion guide to help schools set up their own local focus groups. As school leaders, we should do this more...

Happy reading!

[cross-posted at LeaderTalk]