On the Front Lines of Schools: Perspectives of Teachers and Principals on the High School Dropout Problem

Matthew Walsh

John M. Bridgeland, John J. Dilulio, Jr., and Robert Balfanz, Civic Enterprises with Peter D. Hart Research Associates
June 2009

Civic Enterprises, in The Silent Epidemic, surveyed dropouts to understand the reasons large numbers of students decided to leave high school before graduation (see here). This 2006 report demonstrated that students cite boredom and not being challenged as reasons for dropping out. In On the Front Lines of Schools, the focus turns to surveying public school principals and teachers across America to learn their perceptions of the high-school dropout problem. Predictably, the survey found that principals and teachers have a different view of the problem than students. This gap can be seen in the principals' and teachers' refusal to believe boredom in school was a credible excuse for dropping out, and they were more likely to blame unprepared students and lack of parental involvement.

The study also reveals differences between principals and teachers, particularly on the tracking of college-bound and non-college-bound students. While 59 percent of teachers thought a separate track should be made, only 41 percent of principals wanted this. The study's authors disagreed with the teachers' idea here and soundly rejected a separate track, explaining that all children should be prepared for college.

As about one-third of public high school students do not graduate, the authors tackle an important issue in this report. Unfortunately, the findings show that teachers, principals, and students all have a tendency to blame each other for their failures. It is a cause for some optimism, however, that all groups believe we can do better. While consensus on the type of reform is hard to find, the survey discovers that such ideas as alternative learning environments, which have been successful in some cases, are widely supported among students, principals and teachers.

With a public high-school graduation rate of 75.9 percent, Ohio is about five points above the national average (see here). The Buckeye State should consider seriously the lessons from On the Front Lines of Schools and ensure that measures are taken to prepare each high-school student for college.

For the report, see here.