13 - Academic failure and school dropout: The influence of peers  pp. 313-345

Academic failure and school dropout: The influence of peers

By Shelley Hymel, Colin Comfort, Kimberly Schonert-Reichl and Patricia McDougall

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Academic failure and school dropout pose serious obstacles to the pursuit of educational success and represent a loss for both the individual and society. Recent data indicate that in the United States in 1992, about 11% of individuals age 16–24 had not completed high school, representing approximately 3.4 million individuals (Center for Education Statistics, 1993). In urban areas such as Chicago, the dropout rate can reach as high as 50% for ethnic minority students (Hahn, 1987). In Canada, an estimated 30% of 15- to 20-year-olds do not complete high school, as compared with an estimated dropout rate of less than 10% in Germany, and less than 2% in Japan (Employment and Immigration, 1990; Statistics Canada, 1993). The consequences of early school leaving are quite negative, as dropouts are more likely to experience unemployment and acquire less secure and satisfying work than graduates (McCaul, Donaldson, Coadarci, & Davis, 1992; Rumberger, 1987). Biemiller and Meichenbaum (1993) and Catterall (1985) remind us that the existing dropout rate also has direct implications for society in general, not only in terms of loss of potential of these individuals as contributors to our society, but also in terms of the cost incurred from unemployment, welfare and assistance programs, housing, health care, and so on.

Although studies of the causes of school dropout have identified a wide range of contributing factors, institutional as well as individual, the primary emphasis in this literature has been on academic and familial factors. Far less attention has been given to the role of social factors in contributing to and/or protecting against school failure and dropout.