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Special Education Drop Outs are an International Problem

By May 13, 2008

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Special education students are more likely to drop out of school than their non-disabled peers. This trend holds true for students with all types of disabilities. Arguably, students with specific learning disabilities have lesser degrees of disability than some of the other exceptionalities. Despite this, students with LDs still have a high rate of drop outs. Further, the problem appears to be seen among students in many countries. Parts of Canada report that as many as 60% of students with learning or behavior disorders do not complete school. In the United States, the National Center on Secondary Education and Transition reports that special education students are twice as likely to drop out as regular education students.

The cost of the high drop out rate is incalculably high with profound social and economic implications for the students, their families, and society. Drop outs have high rates of unemployment, make less money, are more likely to need public assistance, and are more likely to become involved with the criminal justice system.

Researchers theorize that high special education dropout rates are correlated with multiple factors such as:

  • Low economic status and race;
  • Student relationships with family, peers, and school staff;
  • Declining academic performance, particularly beginning in sixth grade;
  • Continued low grades in high school and poor attendance;
  • Lack of motivation; and
  • Substance abuse.
Beyond characteristics that place a child at-risk for dropping out, researchers are finding that the school itself may be a strong determining factor as well. Schools that have overall low achievement, a less experienced teaching staff, higher numbers of students per teacher, and less spending per student tend to have higher dropout rates. Schools with dropout rates higher than 60% are sometimes referred to as dropout factories. Successful transition from high school to college, vocational program, or employment is also a factor that correlates to dropout rates, suggesting that preparing students in advance for success after high school may influence student motivation to complete high school.
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