The Public Interest

Of dropouts and stay-ins: the Gershwin approach

Jackson Toby

Spring 1989

IN 1922 Yale professor George S. Counts published one of the first scholarly studies of youngsters who left high school without graduating. He referred to them as “children of high school age not in school”; the word “dropout” had not yet been coined. Counts deplored his finding that the children of middle-class and native-born parents were more likely than the children of the poor and of immigrants to graduate from American public high schools. He probably felt, correctly, that poverty forced most of the dropouts of the first two decades of the twentieth century to leave school whether they wished to withdraw or not. Largely the children of immigrants, they took low-paid jobs to help support their families. In that era, less than one-fifth of all adolescents stayed in high school until graduation.

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