they leave high school can pose significant challenges, doing so can provide invaluable information. Improving understanding of the outcomes for dropouts can help to better target state and local policy.

For instance, Florida’s data system can link education, employment, public assistance, and corrections data and can track graduates and dropouts after they leave the public school system. For the 2006-07 school year, the state was able to track 87 percent of the 114,172 graduates and 44 percent of the 37,820 dropouts. According to the state’s annual report, 55 percent of the graduates were employed, 67 percent were continuing their education in Florida, 3 percent were receiving food stamps, and virtually none were incarcerated or under community supervision (see http://www.fldoe.org/fetpip/pubs.asp, p. 1). Although tracking dropouts is more difficult than tracking graduates, the state was able to determine that 25 percent of the dropouts were employed, 4 percent were enrolled in the education system, 19 percent were receiving food stamps, and 3 percent were incarcerated or under community supervision (p. 13). Florida’s system can also track students over longer periods of time. One report documented that Florida high school graduates from the class of 1996 earned $28,252 in 2005, compared with dropouts from that class who earned $20,136 (Sellers, 2007, p. 26). Documenting what happens to dropouts after they leave school can help state and local policy makers understand the importance of enacting effective dropout prevention programs, particularly when the data reflect outcomes for local students.1

Research has also shown that dropping out is often a temporary status. That is, some dropouts return to school, either to earn a regular high school diploma or an alternative credential. One national study followed a group of students from the end of grade 8 in 1988 to 2000, eight years after their expected graduation in 1992 (Hurst, Kelly, and Princiotta, 2004). The authors reported that 20 percent of the students had dropped out of high school at least once. Among these students, 43 percent had completed high school by spring 1994, two years after their expected graduation (14 percent with a regular diploma and 29 percent with a GED or alternative certificate). An additional 20 percent completed high school between spring 1994 and spring 2000 (5 percent with a regular diploma and 15 percent with a GED or alternative certificate). Altogether, 63 percent of the dropouts in the study went on to earn some form of high school credential. A more recent national study reported similar results. This study tracked sophomores from 2002 through 2006, two years after their expected graduation (Rumberger and Rotermund, 2008) and found that 69

1

It is worth noting here that because dropouts have had more potential work experience than graduates—many of whom continue in school after graduation—such comparisons actually understate the difference in earning power between graduates and dropouts. Because the difference in earnings between graduates and dropouts increases with age, it is important to follow students for many years when making these kinds of comparisons.



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