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The Dropout Process in Life Course Perspective: Early Risk Factors at Home and School


by Karl L. Alexander, Doris R. Entwisle & Nader Kabbani 2001

From a life course perspective, high school dropout culminates a long-term process of disengagement from school. The present paper uses data from a representative panel of Baltimore school children to describe this unfolding process. Over 40% of the study group left school at some point without a degree, but this high overall rate of dropout masks large differences across sociodemographic lines as well as differences involving academic, parental, and personal resources. A sociodemographic profile of dropout for the study group shows how dropout rates vary across different configurations of background risk factors including family socioeconomic status (SES), family type, and family stress level. Dropout risk factors and resources in support of children's schooling then are examined at four schooling benchmarks: the 1st grade, the rest of elementary school (years 25), the middle school (years 68), and year 9 (the 1st year of high school for those promoted each year). Academic, parental, and personal resources condition dropout prospects at each time point, with resources measured early in children's schooling forecasting dropout almost as well as those from later in children's schooling. Additionally, evidence is presented that resources add on to one another in moderating dropout risk, including risk associated with family SES. These patterns are discussed in terms of a life course view of the dropout process.


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 103 Number 5, 2001, p. 760-822
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 10825, Date Accessed: 11/17/2017 2:39:03 PM

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About the Author
  • Karl Alexander
    Johns Hopkins University
    E-mail Author
    KARL L. ALEXANDER is the John Dewey Professor of Sociology, The Johns Hopkins University. His areas of interest include sociology of education, social stratification, and patterns of personal and academic development over the life course. With Doris Entwisle and Susan Dauber, he presently is working on an update of their 1994 volume On the Success of Failure: A Reassessment of the Effects of Retention in the Primary Grades, to be re-issued by Cambridge University Press in 2000. Another on-going project, also using data from the Beginning School Study, is examining the cohort's educational pathways from a life course perspective. The present article is one product of that project.
  • Doris Entwisle
    Johns Hopkins University
    E-mail Author
    DORIS R. ENTWISLE is Professor Emerita of Sociology, The Johns Hopkins University. Her main area of interest is the sociology of human development over the life course, with an emphasis on issues of inequality. With Karl Alexander and Linda Olson, her most recent book is Children, Schools, and Inequality Westview Press, 1997. A former Guggenheim Fellow, in 1997 she received the Society of Research in Child Development Award for Distinguished Scientific Contributions to Child Development.
  • Nader Kabbani
    Economic Research Service, USDA
    NADER S. KABBANI is an Economist with the Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He works on issues related to rural workforce development and food assistance/food security. He recently completed a Ph.D. in Economics at The Johns Hopkins University, where he wrote his dissertation on the effects of public sector training programs on the employment and earnings of non-participant workers.
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