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Core of the Matter: The Critical Role of the Common Core in Dropout Prevention (#CoreMatters)

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June 02, 2015 12:34 pm


The Common Core State Standards (CCSS), when implemented fully and effectively, will ensure that all students graduate prepared for college and career. Implicit in this statement is the part about students actually graduating. The CCSS may not be thought of as “dropout prevention,” but they are. Not only can the standards increase the number of students who graduate fully prepared for college and career, they also can improve school climate and reduce rates of school discipline, which are critical components of dropout prevention.

As a significant number of schools across the country struggle to provide a positive school climate and create and implement inclusive, equitable, and effective school discipline policies, they must recognize the role of student engagement in that process and that the CCSS are a big piece of the puzzle.

Student behavior often reflects the degree to which a student is academically engaged. Specifically, student academic disengagement has the strongest relationship with disciplinary referrals across racial groups. Engaged students are less likely to act out in class and are more likely to feel valued and respected. As student engagement increases, misbehavior and suspension decrease. This is important, since research shows a strong relationship between being suspended and dropping out of school. Being suspended just once in ninth grade is associated with doubling the risk of a student dropping out of high school, from 16 percent to 32 percent. The rate increases to 42 percent if a student is suspended twice in ninth grade.

Unfortunately, across the nation, too many students are denied access to a rigorous and engaging curriculum. According to the Equity and Excellence Commission, consigning students to instructional tracks that do not offer academically rigorous content codifies low expectations by denying them the instructional content needed to prepare them for college and a career. In 2009, prior to the implementation of the CCSS, only 14 percent of white high school graduates completed a rigorous curriculum, according to a study about the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). For students of color, the percentage is approximately half of their white peers, with only 6 percent of African American graduates and 8 percent of Latino graduates completing a rigorous curriculum.

The CCSS are intended to provide all students with access to rigorous, relevant, and engaging learning experiences. The standards also convey an important message regarding beliefs about what all students can accomplish. It is this belief in each individual student’s potential that increases academic engagement. According to a report on student academic mind-sets, “For chronically failing students—or for students in chronically failing schools—the most important result of schooling may be not only a lack of knowledge and skills, but an image of themselves as having little to offer and few capabilities worth developing.” The resulting “academic failure reduces students’ interest in school and attenuates their relationship to whole fields of study that might have otherwise provided potential career opportunities.” The Common Core is not just about what students should know and be able to do, it is about what we think each student is capable of knowing and being able to do.

The relationship between the CCSS and dropout prevention may not initially be obvious, yet it exists. The CCSS convey high expectations and provide engaging, relevant, and rigorous learning opportunities for all students. Classrooms that are engaging and that convey high expectations for all students are less likely to create conditions for negative student behavior. In simple terms, the CCSS can increase student engagement. Increased student engagement improves student behavior, decreases incidents of student discipline, and increases the likelihood that students will graduate from high school fully prepared for college and career. The connection may be multi-stepped, but it nonetheless exists and reflects one of the many ways that the CCSS can ensure that each student realizes his or her full potential.

Jessica Cardichon is the Senior Director of Policy and Advocacy at the Alliance for Excellent Education.
Common Core Equity Series


  1. photo
    Posted 6 years ago

    Access to rigorous and engaging curriculum is not a problem. Students have to be prepared and able to engage with the prior knowledge many of them lack because of the shortage of teaching professionals. By region of every state you can create a range by where you can see the current students ability. In an engaging rigorous curriculum, students must desire the challenge and the information. Students can not just be placed in classes because they refuse to choose them and because they lack the interest and effort. All of the students immediate needs must be dealt with on the social side and no one is talking about that issue. Food, clothing, and housing is the main issues. Yet still, we are trying to solve the academic side without knowing the other mental and social issues and we can not achieve at the rates desired and need for the future workforce unless these needs are address. Try learning when you have not eaten, on drugs, and have not slept.

  2. photo
    Posted 6 years ago

    It has been a challenge for all in rising the challenge of preparing students to meet higher standards. I think this is better than students thinking they are prepared until they go or try to go to college, and find out they must pay more money and spend more time taking remedial courses. I want my children to learn earlier than to struggle more later. Some students who aren’t challenged as they need to be, get into trouble. “Increased student engagement improves student behavior, decreases incidents of student discipline, and increases the likelihood that students will graduate from high school fully prepared for college and career.”

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