Forgotten voices: Why we left high school

Gladys Aileen Adams, Tennessee State University


The major purpose of this ethnographic study was to examine the reasons some dropouts gave for leaving high school before graduating. All subjects were students from a selected school district who had left high school within two years of being interviewed. There were 40 students, drawn from the pool of withdrawals over a two year period from two local high schools, who agreed to participate in the study. They were each interviewed in depth and were asked a series of questions developed by Engel, which had been used in research conducted at the University of Pittsburgh. That study was eventually published in the book Caring for Kids (Appendix B). In addition to in-depth student interviews, which were audio taped and later transcribed, similar interviews were also conducted with at least one parent of 30 of the 40 subjects regarding their backgrounds as well as their views on why those students being studied chose to leave school. Several interviews were also conducted with some of the school staff and administrators of those being studied. Furthermore, with the consent of the students (and their parents for those under age 18), school records were examined for attendance patterns and academic achievement of the 40 dropouts who were participants. After a year of interviewing those studied and triangulating the data of informants, a direct relationship was found between the educational level of several of the dropouts studied and the educational levels of their mothers. Furthermore, it was found that, in almost all cases, the dropouts were at least one year behind grade level and would be at least two years behind at the end of the year in which they chose to leave the school system, had they not withdrawn. In many of the cases, these dropouts had high absenteeism, low grades, and a feeling that they were not cared about by many of the teachers with whom they had been in contact while in the school system. Another consistent finding was the fact that many of the dropouts disliked the overall school environment and found it contained an abundance of drugs as well as weapons. Most were not involved in extracurricular activities. Furthermore, most of the dropouts interviewed expressed a feeling of viewing themselves as “out of place” when compared to their school peers. Most felt conspicuously “older” than their classmates and thought teachers and students viewed them as “slow” or “dumb” since they were behind others who were their age. Neither high school had any systematic plan to offer an alternative type of educational setting to those students who had failed at least one year before entering high school to prevent possible loss of interest in high school. Common traits of high absenteeism, low grades, and the repeat of at least one grade level were found in most of the examined student records.

Subject Area

School administration|Secondary education

Recommended Citation

Gladys Aileen Adams, "Forgotten voices: Why we left high school" (1998). ETD Collection for Tennessee State University. Paper AAI9943845.