School Holding Power

For many years, states across the nation have masked the magnitude of the dropout problem by failing to produce clear-eyed and consistent counts of how many of our students actually graduate with a high school diploma. This year, the National Governor’s Association made important inroads into this issue, with a call for high-quality, comparable high school graduation measures, along with indicators of student progress and outcomes and data systems capable of collecting, analyzing and reporting the data. But it will test the will of the nation to ensure both that these counts are carried out and that we take action to keep students in school.

As the action we take will determine our children’s future, it is our task to look closely at the causes of student attrition and to address not only the immediate risk for this year’s ninth grade students, but long-term changes for all students. With a longstanding commitment to this work, IDRA has undertaken multiple, simultaneous efforts to shine a spotlight on the crisis of school attrition, develop and rigorously test dropout prevention models to help at-risk youth, and work with states, schools and community partners to build school capacity “holding power” to help all students graduate and succeed.

A Snapshot of What IDRA is Doing

Conducting Research – IDRA’s annual attrition study, with results published online, provides a consistent, statewide look at attrition trends in Texas. Both the results of this study and the methodology point to a longstanding need for more accurate official counts of dropout rates and new approaches to addressing a problem that should be considered a crisis and central challenge for the state. In IDRA’s
Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program, secondary school students who are considered at risk of dropping out of school are placed as tutors of elementary school students, enabling the older students to make a difference in the younger students’ lives. Since its inception in San Antonio in 1984 through today, the program has kept more than 20,000 students in school, young people who were previously at risk of dropping out. IDRA’s annual program evaluations of
Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program and campus reports provide critical data on program implementation and outcomes.

Developing Leaders – As education leaders within and beyond the classroom, teachers and administrators play important roles in creating schools that engage every student in learning and academic success. IDRA’s teacher recruitment and professional development initiatives help schools recruit excellent teachers and help teachers and superintendents take leadership in preventing attrition in Texas and other states.

Informing Policy – IDRA is providing technical assistance and testimony on the broad range of public policies that affect school holding power. IDRA’s policy leadership on school finance presses for the equitable resources all schools need, for example, to recruit and retain certified, qualified teachers, to serve students with special needs and limited English proficiency, to operate quality programs that engage and prepare students academically, and to counsel and mentor students from their freshman year to graduation.

Engaging Communities – In partnership with the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), this fall IDRA is hosting a summit on school holding power that will engage Texas communities in reducing student attrition and strengthening their local public schools. Developments from this event and community-based activities that result will be shared in future issues of the IDRA Newsletter.

What You Can Do

Get informed about dropout levels and trends in your community. Texas readers, for example, can find data on your own county at http://www.idra.orghttp:// A list of additional resources and links on attrition can be found at To find out more about the National Governor’s Association’s Graduation Counts: A Compact on State High School Graduation Data, see For a copy of Graduation Counts: A Report of the NGA Task Force on State High School Graduation Data, you can visit:

Get involved with other school-community partners to assess the capacity of your own neighborhood public school to hold on to students and help them succeed to graduation.

Get results by taking a two-pronged approach to addressing student attrition. First, press for implementation of dropout prevention efforts that provide immediate support and a safety net for at-risk youth. The
Coca­Cola Valued Youth Program is one such option. More information on bringing the program to your middle school or high school is online at Second, adopt a systems change approach to promote long-lasting change in student attrition. As a start this can include:

  • pressing for quality state-level reporting on student attrition;
  • identifying areas in need of targeted improvement, for example, enhancing teaching quality, improving student engagement, and expanding parent and community engagement; and
  • developing school-community partnerships to address these critical gaps.

Comments and questions may be directed to IDRA via e-mail at

[©2005, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Every effort has been made to maintain the content in its original form. However, accompanying charts and graphs may not be provided here. To receive a copy of the original article by mail or fax, please fill out our information request and feedback form. 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.]