Want More Kids To Graduate? Maybe Go Easy(ier) on Science and Math

It almost caused me to drop out (just kidding!) but a new study has found that schools that emphasize math and science see more of their populations drop out.

According to newswise.com, as U.S. high schools beef up math and science requirements for graduation, researchers at Washington University in St. Louis have found that more rigorous academics drive some students to drop out.

“There’s been a movement to make education in the United States compare more favorably to education in the rest of the world, and part of that has involved increasing math and science graduation requirements,” explained first author Andrew D. Plunk, PhD, a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine.

“There was an expectation that this was going to be good for students, but the evidence from our analyses suggests that many students ended up dropping out when school was made harder for them,” he added.

Hmm...  Wonder where Common Core falls in this?

Studying census data going back to 1990, the researchers showed that the U.S. dropout rate rose to a high of 11.4 percent when students were required to take six math and science courses, compared with 8.6 percent for students who needed fewer math and science courses to graduate. Results also varied by gender, race and ethnicity with the dropout rate for some groups increasing by as much as 5 percentage points.

“As graduation requirements were strengthened, high school dropout rates increased across the whole population,” Plunk said. “But African-Americans and Hispanics were especially affected."

Among Hispanic males, the dropout rate increased 2.5 percentage points, and among African-American males, the rate rose by 2 points. The overall dropout rate for African-American males was 19 percent on average. But for young African-American males who went to schools in states with the most stringent math and science graduation requirements, the dropout rate rose to 23 percent. 

Co-author William F. Tate, PhD, dean of the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences and vice provost for graduate education, said that part of the problem with adding math and science courses to requirements for high school graduation was that a significant number of students weren’t prepared to meet the new requirements.

“Many students were ill-prepared for the tougher standards,” said Tate, the Edward Mallinckrodt Distinguished University Professor in Arts & Sciences. “Going forward, state policymakers must understand that students can’t take more math and science courses if they quit school.”

In addition to measuring dropout rates, the researchers analyzed the effects of math and science graduation requirements on college enrollment and on the likelihood that students would earn college degrees. They found mixed results.

As would be expected, the more high school dropouts, the lower the rate of college enrollment. But among those who did finish high school and go to college, there was good news, particularly for Hispanic students whose families didn’t move frequently to new states or school districts.

“If their families didn’t move frequently and they attended schools with tougher math and science requirements, the likelihood that Hispanic males would earn a college degree of some kind increased more than 6.3 percentage points,” Plunk said. “For Hispanic females, there was an increase of just over 5.3 points.”

 Plunk said the study shows that a “one-size-fits-all” approach to educational requirements is not ideal because the effect on various demographic groups, states and school districts is likely to be very different.


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