Dignity in Schools, which is circulating a national resolution and lobbying Congress as it works to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, defines a pushout as a student who feels forced out of school not just due to harsh discipline, but because of unsupportive teachers and staff, overcrowding, lack of safety, rigid test-driven curriculum, inadequate resources, and lack of student support services.
Academic factors loom large. “There have been growing links between high-stakes testing and pushout,” said Liz Sullivan, education program director for the National Economic & Social Rights Initiative (NESRI).
According to the Advancement Project’s 2010 report Test, Punish, and Push Out: How “Zero Tolerance” and High Stakes Testing Funnel Youth Into the School-To-Prison Pipeline, the increased use of standardized tests and exit exams and the higher stakes attached to them have greatly impacted the pushout problem. Pennsylvania doesn’t have an exit exam, but is preparing to implement a series of subject tests students must pass to graduate.
Students embarrassed and discouraged because they don’t do well in school often act out until misbehavior causes them to be suspended, expelled, or referred to an alternative school. According to the report, such students are likely to get into additional trouble and fall off course academically, thus being pushed out.
“It’s such a complex problem and I think we are trying to address it on two different ends,” said Rebecca Reumann-Moore, senior research associate at Research for Action.
“It’s certainly true that there are societal issues that affect the school and those are relevant and need to be addressed. But we also have to address the transition from middle school to high school when a lot of kids are lost or start to drop out and become disengaged,” she said.
YUC organizes ‘pushouts’
Participants in YUC’s pushout chapter include youths attending alternative, accelerated, and disciplinary schools, GED programs, and reintegration programs for formerly incarcerated youth. Some are not connected to any school-based program.
Partnering with RFA, YUC is conducting a research project to determine how to address the problem. YUC members say the project was inspired by research conducted by Voices of Youth in Chicago Education (VOYCE), a coalition of Chicago-based youth organizing groups.
Members will survey out-of-school youth, and conduct interviews and focus groups to collect data about the causes of this crisis. Afterward, YUC will create a report and distribute it to the District and to community groups concerned with the dropout crisis.
Branden Williams, 18, a YUC member and student at a new alternative school called El Centro de Estudiantes, said he was pushed out of two high schools before ending up in the alternative program.
“At Thomas Edison, teachers didn’t care, man, and blew me off every time I wanted to ask questions, so … I left there and went to Overbrook for the 10th grade.”
At Overbrook, he said, he was punished for lateness by being forced to stand in a room for hours. His mother got him into Freire Charter School, but by then he was “fed up” and wanted to earn money, so he stopped going.