How to End the Dropout Crisis

As he finished swirling throughout the room, Michael turns to Rakweon, his project partner, and smiled big. The pair just ended their interpretive dance focused on the history of their neighborhood, and for the first time, everyone in the class agreed their demonstration made sense. It was their fifth performance of the year, and this one just seemed to click. Michael focused on his Granddad’s stories, telling tales of coming up and becoming a man. He was excited to see his friends’ responses, and knew he was in the right class that year.

There are so many things that adults can do to halt the dropout crisis in its tracks. For some reason, we’re just not ready to do them, despite solid research and strong examples from across the nation. Recently, I shared five reasons why youth still dropout, even after all these years of interventions. However, there’s something we can all do about it.

If you’re an engaged educator, youth worker, parent, or other adult who hasn’t given up and who truly believes in youth today, here are five ways to end the dropout crisis right now.

5 Ways to End the Dropout Crisis

  • Teach Every Youth Mindsets for Educational Success. Our mindsets determine our realities. Many youth never learn that, or develop the mindsets they need for educational success. They don’t know how their thoughts affect their realities. Many have never seen the formula showing how thoughts drive actions, actions create outcomes, outcomes affect beliefs, and beliefs create thoughts. We can END the dropout crisis by teaching every youth that formula and help them understand how it affects their lives right now. While teaching youth about these mindsets, we can also help them learn about learning, teach them about the education system, aboutlearning, and about roles for student voice throughout schools.
  • Reinvest Wholly In Every Youth. Activists grapple with ending the school-to-prison pipeline while educational leaders struggle with ending the dropout crisis, at the same time parents wrestle with their kids slipping away and employers aren’t getting the employees they want into their workplaces. Reinvesting in every single youth means revisiting the idiom that “Youth are the future” and acknowledging that isn’t enough. We can end the dropout crisis by divesting from standardized testing, mandatory evaluations, prescripted youth programs, and byzantine youth policies en masse.Instead of supporting outdated, outmoded thinking, we’d embrace what Dr. King called “the fierce urgency of now” by reinvesting wholly in every youth, everywhere, all the time. This means actionable, specific, and fully applicable learning for every student throughout every school, all of the time. Project-based learning should be the standard teaching method, not the exception. Every single young person can be a successful student and a conscientious member of society, and we can end the dropout crisis right now by acknowledging this through reinvestment in every youth.
  • Invigorate Every School, Organization, And Community With Young People Everywhere, All The Time. Almost all youth everywhere are routinely, habitually, and systematically segregated from adults throughout our society. Their learning, social lives, work opportunities, and cultural settings are separate and apart from adults. We can end the dropout crisis by invigorating everywhere throughout our society with the full involvement of young people. Adults can learn to be open to authentic youth voicewhile young people learn they are essential members of society, and each will recognize their interdependence through targeted learning opportunities and meaningful group action throughout our communities.
  • Adults Recognize All Young People Are Whole Young People With Valuable Contributions To Make. Rather than acknowledging that the economy is changing, the job market is realigning, and needs and wants are different now than ever before, most adults expect young people to change to meet today’s needs in the economy. This is carryover thinking from the old education model, which sought to mold students into the types of learners teachers were capable of teaching. This is a disingenuous perspective, because the future economy depends on nimble thinking, transformative action, and creative realities. We can end the dropout crisis by recognizing that all young people are whole people. They aren’t half-made, mini-adults, or merely valuable because we need them someday. Our society needs youth right now, especially thecontributions they can make.
  • Recognize That All Youth Are Engaged Youth, Right Now. After reading hundreds of studies, conducting research of my own, and leading projects across North America, I have defined engagement as the sustained connection a person has to the world around them. By that definition, all youth are engaged, right now. That doesn’t mean they are engaged in the ways adults want them to be, or in the places, at the times, with the people, and in the topics adults want them to be. But they are engaged, whether in sex, drugs, rock-n-roll, hip hop, video games, taking care of their sick mom, babysitting their younger siblings, earning an income to pay for food, or whatever. Those things they have sustainable connections with engage them, and that’s what matters. Are adults capable of validating youth engagement right now? We can embrace, sanction, and enhance those engagements. We can foster learning and teaching and leadership throughout their lives. We can do much more than bellyache and moan about youth disengagement, and that’s what is required to end the dropout crisis.

These lessons have sunk into my skin slowly, and I know they will take work. We must concentrate on transforming the entirety of the education system, including policy and practice; we must grow school cultures, including shared beliefs and outcomes; and we must develop personal attitudes, addressing beliefs and actions. These efforts don’t belong to teachers alone, either: they belong to us all, including business, government, social services, and faith communities.

It is our responsibility as ethical practitioners—youth workers, educators, social workers, and community leaders—to respond to authentic requests for youth engagement. What steps can you take to ensure youth stay in schools and our community programs?

5 Ways You Can Help End The Dropout Crisis TODAY

  1. Have a real conversation with a youth. Let them know they can speak freely, allow them to lead the convo, and practice speaking by listening.
  2. Call your school board member. Let them know you’re a voter, and that you’d like to have coffee with them and share your thoughts about dropouts.
  3. Help promote meaningful student involvement. Share my free Guide to Students as Partners with as many educators as you can.
  4. Do something direct in your local schoolLearn about all the ways you can change schools from within right now.
  5. Encourage youth to do something different. Even though many have been slow to prove it, schools must respond when their students change.

Support students is everyone’s responsibility, and we can all take action to make a difference. Are you ready to sound out for ending the dropout crisis?

One thought on “How to End the Dropout Crisis

  1. Adam,

    As usual you deal in the obvious, which makes me wonder why those in charge do not do likewise. We know that by the time they graduate from high school 85% of teens will have done an illegal drug. Granted a high percentage of that is tobacco and alcohol for which they have not reached the legal age. Sadly, 50% will do a street drug.

    If those numbers can continue to fuel a war on drugs why have we done so little to stem the tide of dropouts in a system where only 75% will graduate?

    Rather than see it as the teenage wasteland that it is not, we should be benefiting from the potential of this ever growing and ever important part of our future.

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