Student Voice and Dropouts

Dropping out of school can be one of the most powerful forms of student voice. As inconvenient as it may be for educators, administrators, and frustrated parents, dropping out can be the ultimate vote of no-confidence from a young person about their education.

In the last few years, the topic of “dropout re-engagement” has become a vogue conversation in education circles as the feds funded it and foundations pushed money into the arena. In this conversation I have found a lot of people are using the language of “student engagement” without knowing exactly what they’re talking about.

In a recent conversation with a colleague in Santa Barbara, I suggested that dropout re-engagement must revolve around one primary concern: Increase student ownership of learning. My own experience and research have made clear to me that the reasons why young people leave schools vary, but always hinge on students’ psychological and social investment in schools. Research shows me that the ways to increase ownership are all over the map, but basically revolve around:

  • “Real world” learning connections
  • Meaningful student involvement; and 
  • Direct connections between classroom learning on life beyond high school. 

I suggested to him that any program that centers on those three areas is going to be successful. What do you think? What are the connections between student voice and dropouts? How can we use one to bridge the other?

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to Learn more at!

Published by Adam

For almost two decades, Adam F. C. Fletcher has led international outreach focused on engaging people successfully. Working with thousands of youth-serving nonprofits, K-12 schools, government agencies, international NGOs and other organizations around the world, his work spans the fields of education, public health, economic development and social services, and includes professional development, public speaking, publishing, social media and more. He founded the Freechild Institute for Youth Engagement, SoundOut and CommonAction, as well as writing more than 50 publications and 500 articles. He has also established 150-plus community empowerment projects.

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