‘Teetering on the ninth-grade cliff’

Washington D.C.’s middle schools are the real “dropout factories,” said HyeSook Chung of D.C. Action for Children, a non-profit advocacy group at a city council hearing. More than half of D.C. students who quit school leave in ninth grade. “If we want to improve graduation rates, we need to catch students before they are teetering on the ninth-grade cliff,” said Chung.

Chung, citing research by Johns Hopkins University, said a series of predictive markers, visible as early as sixth grade, can identify dropout candidates: a final grade of “F” in math or English, attendance below 80 percent for the year or a final “unsatisfactory” behavior mark in at least one class.

Sixth graders with one of the four markers had at least a 75 percent chance of dropping out,” Chung said. More than one drove the likelihood even higher.

She proposed an “early warning system” for students at high risk of dropping out.  I’d guess kindergarten teachers could predict who’s likely to succeed or fail.  Once warned, what next?

The District’s graduation rate is 43 percent.



About Joanne


  1. Enforcing appropriate behavior and work ethic needs to start in kindergarten. ES kids need to MASTER the fundamentals; phonics, reading, arithmetic (NO CALCULATORS), grammar and the fundamentals of the disciplines (sciences, history, geography, literature, government) before they arrive in MS. Grading and retention policies need to reflect mastery of grade-level knowledge and skills; passing kids along merely teaches kids they don’t have to put in any effort to pass Kids who arrive in MS with 2nd-4th grade knowledge are not likely to catch up; of course, they are at risk of dropping out.

  2. And for those who *might* make it, I offer this post I did 5 years ago about a Sacramento-area teacher:

  3. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Newsflash: poor students most likely to drop out.

    What do we expect? I mean, really…


    ANAHEIM, CA — He was going to graduate at the top of his class, with a perfect 4.0 GPA and a small stack of citizenship awards. He had perfect attendance for all four years and was active in student government, theatre, and the track team. But Anaheim teen John “Juannymeister” Bradley has shocked his Orange County, California community with an announcement that he intends to drop out the week before graduation.

    “It’s like, I’ve put in all this work, and I’m so clearly the best at so many things… giving up and walking away just totally seems like the right thing to do.”

    His parents are concerned that his dropping out could affect his admission status with Harvard University, in Massachusetts.

    “Johnny worked so hard to get into Harvard. I don’t want to see him lose all that just because he decided to drop out,” said a teary-eyed Jolene Bradley, who has been active in the PTA since John was in kindergarten.

    His friends are unsurprised by the news.

    “All the top kids consider just walking away at one time or another. I mean, everyone knows that the F students are the ones who are really invested in this place. For us, it’s just another line on the resume, one that we can probably do without,” said Erica Slougheart, one of John’s classmates.

    “We’ve been working at this since kindergarten. I tell you, it never ends,” Sloughheart complained.

    Principal Barbara Jadyn Ashley Madison Ashbury Price said she was worried that Bradley’s announcement could lead to “copycat” dropouts. “We’ve known that it was a simmering problem for a long time, and we’ve worked very hard as a school and a district to implement programs designed to help these at-risk achievers and promote engagement and community bonding through a pro-active series of workshops and seminars aimed at students like John Bradley. But there’s only so much synergy one can get from facilitating positive learning outcomes in a structuralized, culturally sensitive way. We might be on the verge of failing our most vulnerable, and that would really hurt our test score averages.”

    Meanwhile, in a darkened hallway at the back of the school, three students — Joseph Cuervo, Johnathon Walker, and John Daniels — smoked cigarettes and laughed about the situation.

    “Jack and Johnny and I might be F-students, and we might cut class every day, and maybe our citizenship could use some (expletive) work. But we know that school is the place for us. We’d never drop out. Only winners like that John Bradley (expletive) drop out of school,” Cuervo said.

    “I can’t imagine what he’s thinking. School’s great,” Daniels added.

    But these three underachievers, who are ranked last, fourth from last, and sixth from last in their class, may be some of the only students left at this small, Southern California high school who aren’t considering dropping out…

  4. Darren: Your link mentions the boot camp kids had good grades; was MS grade inflation part of the problem?

  5. Richard Aubrey says:

    Presuming a kid who wants to learn is in school wanting to learn, and discovers by hitting the ninth grade that, not only has he not learned much, he’s not likely to learn much more and his abysmal preparation guarantees he’s going to fail anyway, I figure dropping out may be the course that suggests itself to the kid, if not to the attendance office.

  6. There is also the reality that 14 and 15-year olds are old enough to see that high school offers only a small slice of the possible things you could learn in high school. It does not, typically, offer a path towards a job or career unless you are also planning another 2 or 4 years of classroom education post-high school.

  7. Richard Aubrey says:

    In the olden time, a kid could get working papers at, I think, twelve years. Something like that.
    Imagine adding all those kids to the unemployment numbers, presuming they were trying to get a job and couldn’t. I believe to get the working papers you had to have a job prospect. But nothing says the job has to last forever, and many don’t.
    Problem is, to make a first job a good step into the world of work, you need to have certain characteristics, characteristics which might lead you not to drop out, thus making the potential dropped-out workers not particuarly good choices as employees.