High School Dropouts' Perspectives: Implications for Dropout Prevention Practices and Policies (2017-2018)


This project takes an interdisciplinary, developmental approach to educational attainment and young adult life success. The team leaders’ theoretical approach to school dropout prevention involves an appreciation and consideration of a social science systems approach; a positive youth development perspective; an emphasis on early identification of who is at risk for dropping out; and an emphasis on the importance of strengthening social capital in the form of providing direct support and encouragement to at-risk students.

There is a clear need in the translational literature for specifying the factors and processes that are important for effective school-based dropout prevention practices and policies. In a continued partnership with Durham Public Schools, this project will ultimately enable researchers and stakeholders to learn more specifically for whom, and what, where, when and how interventions can be targeted to improve education experiences and graduation rates.

Project Description

This Bass Connections project focuses on investigating high school dropouts’ perspectives about factors and processes related to high school educational attainment. Its purpose is to develop a clearer understanding of risk factors for dropout and learn more about factors and processes that can strengthen the potential for graduating.

Previous versions of this project team have worked with Durham Public Schools to create, pilot-test, implement and evaluate new interventions for middle school and high school dropout prevention. The 2017-2018 team will continue these intervention pilots. The primary emphasis will be on conducting a research study of dropouts’ perspectives. Activities will include developing and implementing a community-based participatory research study involving interviewing school dropouts; learning the range of methods by which researchers examine school dropout; engaging regularly with Durham Public Schools administrators and staff; and exploring ways to assess the neurodevelopmental impact of the interventions within the interpersonal contexts that influence these youths’ behaviors.

Dropouts themselves may be essential informants in shedding light on the educational and developmental factors and processes that can help improve dropout prevention practices and policies. The team will interview dropouts about their perspectives on why they dropped out, the negative and positive features of their schools and schooling, their values about education and their ideal school. Team members will also interview school personnel, including teachers, administrators, school resource officers and counselors, as well as parents/guardians and community leaders who work with those who have dropped out or are at risk of dropping out, on their perspectives so as to triangulate the data and findings.

Anticipated Outcomes

Manuscript suitable for publication; presentation of findings to the Durham Public Schools community and the Duke community; refined model for effective university-community partnerships that empowers undergraduate students to become active, dynamic resources within their communities; validation of the collaborative model with the goal of establishing guidelines and best practices for school dropout prevention


Fall 2017 – Spring 2018

  • Fall 2017: School dropout knowledge and research methods overview; relevant methods training (e.g., NVivo); school dropout study; identification of individual subtopics and set of objectives to be met by May 2018
  • Spring 2018: Data collection for study of school dropouts; data analyses; publishable manuscript based on study involving interviews with dropouts, with relevant student team members as coauthors; presentations to the group and in written form; initial evaluation of neurocognitive assessment data

This Team in the News

Why Do Students Drop Out?

See earlier related team, School Dropout Prevention in the Durham Public Schools (2016-2017).

/faculty/staff Team Members

  • Ann Brewster, Social Science Research Institute*
  • Timothy Strauman, Arts & Sciences-Psychology and Neuroscience*

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Victoria Johnson, Psychology (BS), Economics (BS2)
  • Van Nguyen, Public Policy Studies (AB)
  • Brooke Porter, Political Science (AB)

/zcommunity Team Members

  • Durham Public Schools