What is a Dropout Factory?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
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Woman with hand on her hip

A dropout factory is a high school where 60% or less of the students who enter the school as freshman graduate. Such schools are often used to illustrate the inequality in education systems, since they are often concentrated in low-income and disadvantaged neighborhoods. In the United States, roughly one in 10 schools are considered dropout factories by the Department of Education, despite attempts to equalize the American educational system.

There are a number of reasons why a school becomes a dropout factory. For example, some students actually transfer, rather than dropping out, but it can be difficult to track students through multiple schools and districts, so they are often included in the dropout statistics. In other cases, students really do drop out, or they fail to make the necessary grades to graduate, and decide not to pursue remedial instruction.

Schools are at increased risk of becoming dropout factories when they have limited funding, which makes it difficult to maintain academic programs and high-quality teachers. Schools with students from families with a limited education level may also become dropout factories, because the parents may not value education or push their students to finish their high school education. Students may also have to cope with problems such as parents with substance addictions, gang wars, the need to care for younger siblings, or the need to work to support their families.

Schools identified as low-performing schools or dropout families may also, paradoxically, be penalized for failing to educate their students. Rather than recognizing that a dropout factory needs support and assistance, the government may withdraw funding or other forms of assistance as a penalty, even though the students are the ones who suffer from policies like this.

In low-income neighborhoods, students sometimes have multiple schools to choose from, but all of these schools may have comparably low performance, because they all suffer from the same funding difficulties and social problems. This can be frustrating for students who have problems at a dropout factory and attempt to transfer to another school to improve their chances at getting an education; when they encounter the same issues at the new school, they may simply give up, rather than attempting to transfer out of the district.

The dropout factory problem can be addressed in a number of ways. Increasing funding and governmental support for schools is important, as is promoting education in disadvantaged communities. Outreach programs for at-risk youth can also contribute to an increased completion rate for education, by showing students their potential and encouraging them to pursue professional careers.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@JimmyT - I totally agree. I actually had a high school principal tell me that they were glad when some students dropped out that would lower the average tests scores for the student body as a whole!

Thinking like this shows that the schools are not caring about the success of every kid and the fact that the government bases funding around test scores only make an endless spiral for the schools that are struggling.

The government really needs to re-think what they are doing in regards to education and education funding and try to keep as many students in school as possible whatever way they can.

I truly believe that dropout factories can definitely lower in frequency if more emphasis was put on helping the schools in need instead of punishing them with their low test scores.

There definitely is a correlation between the lack of funding and dropout factories as well as what little is done to progress the positive growth of these schools and I wonder if there are already studies out there on this topic?


@Izzy78 - That is true, but to be honest I think one reason why the drop out rate is steadily climbing is because of the fact that state standards emphasize way too much what is put on standardized tests like the ACT or the SAT.

I student taught when I was in college and I could not believe that we spent two weeks straight during the fall semester preparing for the ACT when the test was not until April!

When school is like this it creates a mundane environment for students and makes them question what the use is going to school if they are not going to learn anything.

I know some people may be thinking they will think this way regardless, but I disagree with that assessment as a student whose life is mostly spent at school will wonder what the purpose actually is if they are simply going to do nothing but focus on one test.

This is when the school fails the student and something that is not talked about enough. The movement of standardized tests is having an adverse effect on the students and causing dropout rates to become higher.

@TreeMan - You would think that, but I remember there was someone in my high school that dropped out with two weeks left to go in school, simply because they did not want to show up the last two weeks and their parents did not care.

Personally I feel like making the age requirement to drop out eighteen would have some positive effects, but it would still not stop people from doing it that are sick of school.

Personally, I think that there's no reason for someone to drop out of high school simply because they would far too limit their future. However, there are places in the country where this is the case and the school districts that let this happen are either hampered by lack of funds or the administrators simply do not care because of other problems going on in the schools.

This is a major reason why the United States is not ranked as high as it should be in education and the government should begin to focus on drop out statistics more.

I find this to be very interesting as I grow up in the mid-west in the rural areas where nearly everyone graduates high school.

I would have to say that at my particular high school at least ninety percent of the students that enter high school as a freshman will graduate there or at other schools.

From what I have seen though the students that come from disadvantaged homes have a far greater chance of dropping out since the drop out age is only seventeen years old.

A lot of times when a student reaches the age of seventeen they decide to drop out of school and there is nothing the school can do about it simply because the parents do not care about the well being of their child.

I personally feel like the drop out age should be raised to eighteen years of age, also when the student becomes a legal adult. If this were to happen a student may be more inclined to finish out school if the end is in near sight.

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