• By Roy L. Johnson, M.S. • IDRA Newsletter • October 2009

Roy L. Johnson, M.A.Texas public high schools lose about one-third of their students before they graduate with a high school diploma. In its latest annual attrition study, IDRA found that for every 100 ninth grade students in 2005-06, 31 students were lost from the high school graduation pipeline by 2008-09. This translates to a loss of about 125,508 students from the class of 2009. (See study.)

Cumulatively, between 1985-86 to 2008-09, a total of 2.9 million students have been lost from Texas public schools without receiving a high school diploma. Graduation from high school with a diploma and being fully prepared for college, a career and citizenry, are the ultimate outcomes for high school students. Yet for these outcomes to be attained, students must be provided a quality education through high quality teaching, high quality school leadership, high quality curriculum, high quality learning environment, high quality student engagement, and high quality parent and community engagement.

The education system has been plagued with many issues that impact the quality of teaching and learning in our schools. Schools and communities are having difficulty keeping students in school, engaged in learning, and meeting high academic standards. Effective schools know that graduating students with a diploma, backed by an excellent education, must be the focal point of systems change in education (Robledo Montecel, 2005).

Framework for Action

Through its Quality Schools Action Framework, IDRA has presented a process for achieving systems change in education. The framework is based on experience and empirical evidence emerging from existing theories of change that assert that lasting systems change depends on sustained action within and outside of those systems (Robledo Montecel, 2005).

Several components make up this comprehensive approach to school transformation – levers of change, change strategies, school system fundamentals and indicators, and outcome indicators. Within the framework, there are three interconnected and interdependent change strategies: (1) community capacity building, (2) coalition building, and (3) school capacity building.

The framework examines the links among key education indicators: teaching quality, effective governance, curriculum quality and access, student engagement, parent and community engagement, and fair and equitable funding. In the framework, the final outcomes are that students are kept in school, that students succeed academically, and that students are prepared for college and career.

Increasing School Holding Power

School holding power is defined as the ability of schools to keep students enrolled in school and learning until they graduate. High quality schools have good school holding power and prepare all students to succeed in college and career.

Research suggests that quality schools possess the following characteristics: (1) high expectations for every student; (2) strong school leadership; (3) qualified teachers in every classroom; (4) rigorous curriculum and fair assessments; (5) sufficient resources that help all students achieve; (6) safe, healthy and supportive learning environments; (7) schools and classrooms equipped for teaching and learning; and (8) parent and community support (Give Kids Good Schools, nd). All of these elements are contained in strategic components of IDRA’s Quality Schools Action Framework.

IDRA’s push for increasing school holding power is rooted in the notion that high quality schools must establish goals to graduate all students with a high school diploma. In its recently-released policy brief, “Moving Beyond AYP: High School Performance Indicators,” the Alliance for Excellent Education calls for the use of sophisticated indicators to stem the tide of the high school dropout crisis and to improve the preparation of all students for college and career. The alliance supports aligning proficiency and graduation rates with the goal of every student graduating ready for college and career.

The lack of school holding power impacts everyone socially and economically. The magnitude of the school dropout problem in Texas and in the nation is related to a number of negative outcomes – higher unemployment rates, lower pay, smaller tax base, higher rates of incarceration for dropouts, etc. According to IDRA President and CEO, Dr. María “Cuca” Robledo Montecel, the magnitude of the dropout problem calls for a seismic shift from dropout prevention to graduation for all.


In order to increase school holding power, schools and communities must not only set new goals pertaining to graduation rates, they also must examine schools as systems and pro-actively address issues that fail to keep students in school.

Working together, schools and communities must align educational goals with quality school indicators. IDRA’s Quality Schools Action Framework provides specific recommendations on building community capacity, building coalitions, and strengthening school capacity to produce high quality schools and stem the leaks in the secondary school pipeline.


Robledo Montecel, M. “A Quality Schools Action Framework: Framing Systems Change for Student Success,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, November-December 2005).

Give Kids Good Schools. “What Makes a Quality Public School?” web site and fliers (Washington, D.C.: Public Education Network, no date).

Pinkus, L.M. “Moving Beyond AYP: High School Performance Indicators,” Policy Brief (Washington, D.C.: Alliance for Excellent in Education, June 2009).

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

[©2009, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the October 2009 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.]