New study explores how a school's organizational structure can influence graduation rates

May 01, 2006

In an important new longitudinal study forthcoming in May 2006 issue of the American Journal of Education, researchers from the University of Hawaii and the Hawaii Department of Education explore the role of a high school's organizational structure on a student's eventual graduation. They found that though curricular stratification in many schools can trap students into "dead-end" course taking sequences, these social reproduction effects are mitigated in schools committed to improvement activities and with more students taking college-preparatory classes.

"We opened with the thought that disparities in the outcomes for some racial/ethnic groups continue to be at the center of debates about education reform," write Ronald H. Heck (University of Hawaii, Manoa) and Rochelle Mahoe (Hawaii Department of Education). " We believe that modeling within-school interactions provides a more complex set of stories about how social divisions affect students' academic and social integration."

In the past, researchers have favored a type of psychological risk model to explain student withdrawal, where most of the blame for dropping out is associated with the student instead of the school. However, institutional structures such as class size have an effect on a student's likelihood of dropping out, as do school policies regarding discipline. Heck and Manoa point out that longer suspensions are given to low-achieving students in the weeks before and during state testing.

"The sum of work on how schools affect withdrawal indicates students are more likely to drop out of schools with rigid tracking, unchallenging curricula, poor teaching, and punitive behavioral policies," explain the authors. "The social control function of schools often supersedes the learning function."
Founded as School Review in 1893, the American Journal of Education bridges and integrates the intellectual, methodological, and substantive diversity of educational scholarship, while encouraging a vigorous dialogue between educational scholars and practitioners.

Ronald H. Heck and Rochelle Mahoe, "Student Transition to High School and Persistence: Highlighting the Influences of Social Divisions and School Contingencies" American Journal of Education 112:3.

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