Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Service-Learning and Dropout Prevention: True Prevention Starts Early

By Marty Duckenfield~National Dropout Prevention Center

It is heartening to those of us involved for decades in dropout prevention to see our colleagues at all levels of education acknowledge the connection between service-learning and keeping kids in school. Most of the focus of the recent flurry of reports has been on the secondary level, whether middle or high school, with dropout summits and reports about kids saying why they left school….and that service-learning is a wonderful way to re-engage these young people in school and in developing their plans for a positive future.

What I want to bring to readers' attention today, however, is that real dropout prevention starts much earlier, and the research that the National Dropout Prevention Center conducted with Communities In Schools in 2007 bears this out. Risk Factors and Exemplary Programs, found at this URL, and the risk factors that relate to dropout can be found in the Executive Summary.

The key points from the research are:

• Dropping out of school is related to a variety of factors.

• There is no single risk factor that can be used to accurately predict who is at risk of dropping out.

• The accuracy of dropout predictions increases when combinations of multiple risk factors are considered.

• Dropouts are not a homogeneous group. Many subgroups of students can be identified based on when risk factors emerge, the combinations of risk factors experienced, and how the factors influence them.

• Students who drop out often cite factors across multiple domains and there are complex interactions among risk factors.

• Dropping out of school is often the result of a long process of disengagement that may begin before a child enters school.

• Dropping out is often described as a process, not an event, with factors building and compounding over time.

Service-learning has long been promoted by the NDPC as a vehicle for school reform, and this report supports that approach. Dropping out is not just caused by academic failure although so much of the focus of No Child Left Behind and its legacy has not acknowledged that fact.

True dropout prevention, therefore, should be focused on multiple causes and should begin in the earliest years. If students and their families are engaged with the school through school and community service-learning projects; if children are excited about coming to school with the applied learning and experiential education afforded by service-learning; if attendance is up because of that excitement; and if children are learning to work and share together via these real-life experiences; well, then, perhaps the issues that tend to surface more dramatically at the middle and high school levels—leading to dropout—will disappear.

I would love to hear from elementary teachers who have seen how service-learning has helped them connect with children who might be perceived as at risk of dropping out someday; how service-learning has neutralized some of the risk factors that are often beyond our control; and how children are developing the traits of resilience which are fostered by service-learning—traits that will enable them to overcome the odds and attain success in school and in life.

These would be great stories, and sharing these might broaden the perspective of those educators who are seeing the connection between service-learning and dropout prevention—that they may now turn some of the spotlight onto the elementary grades. The trend seems to be that there is less service-learning at the elementary level, and this is terrible news. I hope that you will share some of these stories with the readers of this blog and perhaps begin to stop that unfortunate trend.

(Original article posted at

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About Me

The CalServe Network posts news and updates of interest to the service-learning field in California. News and updates are drawn from the CalServe List Serve and the National K-12 Service-Learning List Serve and various other sources.