By Dan Heath and Chip Heath
Walk into an urban high school and look around at the kids. Roughly half of them will drop out of school. If you knew which ones, you might be able to steer them toward a different path. But you can’t solve a problem until you can spot it, and how do you spot a future dropout?
Some Johns Hopkins University researchers, frustrated by the high-school-dropout rate, went looking for early-warning signs among students in Philadelphia. What were the telltale markers of a student who wouldn’t graduate? Their analysis came back with astonishing clarity. Poring over eighth-grade attendance records, they found hundreds of students who had missed more than one out of every five class days. Of those frequent absentees, 78% eventually quit high school. Similarly, of the eighth graders who had failed either English or math, three out of four dropped out. No other factor — gender, race, age, or standardized-test scores — had the predictive power of those two patterns.
The researchers concluded that the school district could identify more than half of the students who would be likely to drop out before they even set foot in high school.