Tools for Action

School Holding Power

School holding power refers to a school’s ability to prepare all students academically and to hold on to them through to graduation. Nationally, our schools lose one student every three minutes. Among Latino students alone, 1.4 million young people have been lost from our schools. That’s like losing Atlanta, Kansas City and Milwaukee in one year. Yet some still argue over counting methods rather than focusing on the real problem.

Fortunately, many educators, parents and students have not waited to make a change. They know there is a problem. They know there are solutions. Around the country, schools and communities, in partnership with IDRA and in a range of other initiatives, have pioneered new ways to turn the tide. Class by class, they have found ways to transform schools from places that misplace children into settings that hold on to them.

A Snapshot of What IDRA is Doing

Developing Leaders – 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. These tutors become leaders in their classrooms, tutoring the younger students and shoring up their own studies so that they are able to continue in the program and not disappoint their young charges. As important are the changes among school teachers and administrators who now see these tutors as valuable contributors rather than as troublemakers. (See article entitled “Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program – Strengthening Student Connections with School.”)

Conducting ResearchIDRA’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.

Informing Policy – IDRA recently was involved in state policy reform discussions related to providing targeted resources to improve high school graduation rates and school holding power in Texas high schools by allocating new state funding to support such programs. Though the Texas legislature did provide a new $275 per high school ADA allotment, the new revenues can be used for an array of high school improvement efforts, including but not limited to dropout prevention (see box).

Engaging Communities – IDRA’s Graduation Guaranteed/Graduación Garantizada is supporting educators, community members, parents and new community-school partnerships with: (1) clear, actionable data on attrition and the factors that give rise to it, (2) information on proven practices for preventing students from dropping out and strengthening school holding power, and (3) resources and technical assistance on how to develop and implement local action plans. Tailored around campus-based needs and plans, the initiative is designed to build the capacity of school leaders and educators to implement effective, data-driven reforms.

What You Can Do

Get informed. Achieve, Inc., has released a recent study to provide policymakers with an overview of the research about the dropout problem and the best strategies for building an early warning data system that can signal which students and schools are most in need of intervention. You can visit the web site to get numerous materials on the subject at

Get involved. Talk with parents. Engage your school’s site-based decision making team, PTA, boosters and other groups and find out what they are doing to promote graduation of all students. Join them in doing more. Find out about your school’s plans to improve graduation rates. Ask your principal or parent liaison for a copy of your school’s “campus improvement plan.” Help create opportunities for all students to be meaningfully engaged in school life.

Get results. If you are interested in organizing a Graduation Guaranteed/ Graduación Garantizada convening in your area or in forming a local community-school action team, contact IDRA. Learn more about the Graduation Guaranteed initiative at You can look up your county’s attrition rate on IDRA’s web site (http://www.idra.orghttp:// and learn more about rates and what to do to improve them locally. Parents can meet with teachers and counselors to make sure their child is on track to graduate.

[©2006, 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.]