• by Roy L. Johnson, M.S. • IDRA Newsletter • October 2010 • Roy L. Johnson, M.A.

For the first time in the 25-year history of reporting trends in dropout and attrition rates in Texas public schools, IDRA’s latest study shows that less than 30 percent of students were lost from public enrollment prior to graduation with a high school diploma. IDRA found that 29 percent of the freshman class of 2006-07 left school prior to graduating in the 2009-10 school year. The current statewide attrition rate in Texas is four percentage points lower than the initial rate of 33 percent found in IDRA’s landmark 1985-86 study.

This 2009-10 attrition study is the 25th study conducted by IDRA and the latest in a series of reports that began in the 1985-86 school year. Since 1986, IDRA has conducted an annual attrition study to track the number and percent of students in Texas who are lost from public school enrollment prior to graduation from high school. IDRA gained the distinction of conducting the first comprehensive study of school dropouts in Texas when it released its initial study in October 1986, which led to the creation of the state law that requires the state education agency to include dropout data in its accountability system. IDRA has continued its attrition analyses using the same theoretical and mathematical framework to monitor the status of school dropouts in the state of Texas.

This latest finding suggests that the ability of Texas public high schools to keep students in school until they graduate has improved somewhat for students overall in recent years, but results remain mixed.

Key findings include the following:

The overall attrition rate was less than 30 percent for the first time in 25 years.

About three of every 10 students from the freshman class of 2006-07 left school prior to graduating with a high school diploma – meaning,

Texas public schools are failing to graduate three out of every 10 students.

The gaps between the attrition rates of White students and Hispanic students and Black students are dramatically higher than 25 years ago.

For the class of 2009-10, Black students and Hispanic students are about two times more likely to leave school without graduating with a diploma than White students.

Since 1986, Texas schools have lost a cumulative total of more than 3 million students.

A supplemental analysis indicates that, based on one statistical scenario of Texas attrition rate history, the state will not reach an attrition rate of zero until 2040. At this pace, the state will lose an additional 1.9 million to 3.5 million students. (Montes, 2010)

The full study is available that includes methodology, historical statewide attrition rates and numbers of students lost to attrition categorized by race-ethnicity and by gender, a county-level data map, a county-level data attrition rate table, trend data by county, and historical county-level numbers of students lost to attrition.

A school with a high dropout rate must make a concerted effort to reconfigure part or most of its structure and practices to ensure that it meets these three goals: (1) strengthen relationships among students, school staff and families; (2) improve teaching and learning in every classroom every day; and (3) if necessary, reallocate budget, staff and time to achieve goals one and two that lead to increased student achievement and graduation rates.

IDRA’s Quality School Action Framework guides communities and schools in identifying weak areas and strengthening public schools’ capacities to improve their holding power. IDRA’s new book, Courage to Connect: A Quality Schools Action Framework™ shows how communities and schools can work together to be successful with all of their students. The book’s web page (http://www.idra.org/couragetoconnect) provides a table of contents, excerpt, related podcasts and other resources.

IDRA also has developed a set of principles for policymakers and school leaders. IDRA’s online OurSchool data portal helps community and school partners examine their school data and plan joint action to improve school holding power. The portal can be accessed free at http://www.idra.org/OurSchool.

In addition, IDRA has developed a one-page Quality School Holding Power Checklist with a set of criteria for assessing and selecting effective dropout prevention strategies and for making sure that your school is a quality school. The criteria are based on a review of research, IDRA’s Quality Schools Action Framework and IDRA’s 25 years of experience with its highly-successful dropout prevention program, the Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program.

Since 1986, Texas high schools have lost 3 million students. This is the equivalent of losing Houston and Austin over the course of two and half decades. And, at our current pace, we could be looking at losing as many as 3.5 million more students – or the entire populations of San Antonio, Dallas, El Paso and Lubbock over the next three decades. But dropouts do not disappear or evaporate into thin air. They struggle with their lives, trying to earn a living without a high school diploma. This lack of school holding power affects every one of us.


Cárdenas, J.A., M. Robledo Montecel, & J. Supik. Texas Dropout Survey Project (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, 1986).

Montes, F. Sluggish Attrition Rate Descent Means 1.9 Million to 3.5 Million More Texas Students May be Lost (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, 2010).

Roy L. Johnson, M.S., is director of IDRA Support Services. Comments and questions may be directed to him via e-mail at comment@idra.org.

[©2010, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the October 2010 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]