Russell W. Rumberger


On his book Dropping Out: Why Students Drop Out of High School and What Can Be Done About It

Cover Interview of December 02, 2011

The wide angle

The book is related to and draws on a wide range of theories and research in education and related social science fields, including economics, sociology, demography, political science, and criminology.  Many fields provide valuable insights into the four dimensions of the dropout crisis.  Economists, for example, have documented the economic flight of high school graduates, including their poor labor market experiences and low lifetime earnings.  Economists have also compared the benefits of improving high school graduation rates with the costs of proven interventions, demonstrating the economic payoff to such investments.  Criminologists have examined the relationship between dropping out and crime, trying to determine the extent to which crime leads to dropping out and dropping out leads to crime.

This book is a culmination of 30 years of research on high school dropouts.  I wrote my first paper on high school dropouts in 1981.  And although I have investigated other educational issues over the course of my academic career, including student mobility, school segregation, and education of English language learners, research on dropouts has been dominant.

Most of this work has come in the form of empirical studies and academic papers.  But more recently my work has focused on interventions and policy prescriptions.  I started the California Dropout Research Project (CDRP) in December 2006 to synthesize existing research and undertake new research to inform policymakers and the larger public about the nature of—and effective solutions to—the dropout problem in California.  To date, the project has produced 69 research studies and publications which have been downloaded more than 64,000 times from the project website and lead to a series of bills designed to address the dropout problem, which were passed by the California legislature and signed into law by the governor.

But I decided to write this book also in order to provide a comprehensive summary of the issues and research on the topic that could inform a wide audience with an interest in the problem, including scholars, educators, and policymakers.