Session: Persisting Is the New Dropout: Addressing Gaps in the Current Understanding of Non-Graduation (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

64 Persisting Is the New Dropout: Addressing Gaps in the Current Understanding of Non-Graduation

Friday, January 17, 2020: 8:00 AM-9:30 AM
Supreme Court, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
Cluster: School Social Work (SSW)
Mathew Uretsky, PhD, Portland State University, Susan Stone, PhD, University of California, Berkeley and Hyuny Clark-Shim, BA, Portland State University
Earning a high school diploma is a key social determinant of health, affecting the social, economic, and physical wellbeing of individuals and their greater communities. Historically, most interventions targeting non-graduates have focused on retaining potential dropouts or recapturing current dropouts. A series of recent studies have identified a second group of non-graduates, who persist through their fourth year of high school without dropping out or earning a diploma. Recent studies using administrative data have identified between 8 and 22% of their student population as persisters, compared to the 3-11% who were dropouts. The success of dropout prevention efforts in recent decades has resulted in more students staying in school longer. Unfortunately, it appears that many of the students these programs were meant to serve are not earning a high school diploma in four or even five years. Identifying and understanding this under-studied population of persisters will provide multiple new opportunities for supporting non-graduates. Although persisters now represent the largest group of non-graduating high school students, they have received little attention in the research literature. Persisting and dropping out are best conceptualized as actions, not outcomes. A student who is a persister at the end of their fourth year of high school has the potential to re-enroll in the subsequent year and earn a high school diploma, drop out, or persist through their fifth year without earning a diploma. However, unlike dropouts, “persisters” remain behaviorally engaged in school. Meaning that from a prevention science perspective, persisting would be preferable to dropout, and graduation would be preferred over either. There is a crucial need for research focusing directly on persisting students in order to identify practice and policy levers that support eventual graduation for students who persist after their fourth year of high school. This roundtable session will be a dialogue about important gaps in the current conceptualization, research, and current practices related to non-graduates. Persisters resemble dropouts in terms of their demographic backgrounds (e.g., disproportionate representation of students of color and students living in poverty) which suggests that persisters are positioned at the nexus of social work and social justice. The first presenter will describe this under-researched and underserved group of vulnerable young people and share the limited current understanding of what their educational trajectories look like, and factors that affect their life course. The second presenter will then discuss how these students are disproportionately pushed out of the educational system but often stay engaged in under-resourced alternative educational settings. Finally, the last presenter will share the overall structure of the current educational system and suggest directions for future research and policy development to address the gaps in current understanding. Therefore, our discussion is moving beyond describing the experiences of persisters to also include the social and political contexts that converge to reinforce larger inequalities. Our goal is to encourage dialogue that will highlight political and practical impediments, with an eye to supporting students whose academic pathways are not well represented in the traditional four-year model of high school graduation.
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