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School Counseling to Decrease Drop Out Rates: A Social Justice Framework for Success. Cheryl Holcomb-McCoy, Ph.D. Johns Hopkins University Baltimore MD. Objectives At the end of today’s session, participants will…. Be knowledgeable of a social justice framework for school counseling

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school counseling to decrease drop out rates a social justice framework for success

School Counseling to Decrease Drop Out Rates: A Social Justice Framework for Success

Cheryl Holcomb-McCoy, Ph.D.

Johns Hopkins University

Baltimore MD

objectives at the end of today s session participants will
ObjectivesAt the end of today’s session, participants will…..
  • Be knowledgeable of a social justice framework for school counseling
  • Be knowledgeable of data pertaining to Prince William County’s drop out rates
  • Be knowledgeable of risk factors and predictors of dropping out
  • Be knowledgeable of how school counselors can play a critical role in drop out prevention
  • Be knowledgeable of successful drop out prevention programs and strategies
traditional vs social justice approach to school counseling
Traditional vs. Social Justice Approach to School Counseling

“Traditional” SC Approach

  • Dependence on counseling theories and approaches with little to no regard for cultural background
  • Emphasis on individual student factors (e.g., unmotivated, depressed)
  • Emphasis on equality
  • Reliance on labels
  • Little to no use of data
  • Focus on maintaining status quo
  • Focus on enrolling students in “comfortable” courses

Social Justice SC Approach

  • Major focus is on highlighting the strengths of students (empowerment-based counseling)
  • Emphasis on systemic, socio-cultural and environmental factors that influence student behavior
  • Major goal is to challenge oppression
  • Emphasis on equality and equity
  • Avoidance of labeling
  • Dependence on data
  • Focus on changing existing policies and strategies
  • Focus on enrolling students in more rigorous courses
six key elements to social justice focused school counseling
Six Key Elements to Social Justice Focused School Counseling
  • Counseling and Intervention Planning
  • Consultation
  • Connecting Schools, Families, and Communities
  • Collecting and Using Data
  • Challenging Bias
  • Coordinating Student Services

Holcomb-McCoy, C. (2007). School Counseling to Close the Achievement Gap: A Framework for Success. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

counseling and intervention planning
Counseling and Intervention Planning
  • Counseling must be culturally responsive and inclusive of cultural implications
  • Assess and consider environmental factors (e.g., immigration laws, fear in community, distrust in community, poverty) that impact student and parent problems
  • Use a strengths-based approach or “empowerment-focused” approach
  • Focus on the resilience of students and their families rather than their deficits.
  • Acknowledge cultural differences between the consultant (counselor), teacher/parent, and student.
  • Develop a “quality” helping relationship with teachers and parents so that issues of equity can be discussed honestly.
  • Use questions to incite “new perspectives” (“Have you ever thought about how Chris feels when you tell him that he is “not college-material?”)
  • Culturally responsive and empowerment-focused parent consultation is critical
connecting schools families and communities
Connecting Schools, Families, and Communities
  • CREATE PARTNERSHIPS with community groups, businesses, community leaders, places of worship, etc.
  • A Partnership "implies a formal alliance and contractual agreement to work toward shared goals and to share the profits or benefits of mutual investments” (Epstein, 1992)
  • Information on Partnerships:

collecting and using data
Collecting and Using Data
  • Data can be useful in determining inequities in school achievement, attendance rates, dropout rates, suspensions, etc. What do I want to know about my school’s ability to educate students?
  • Types of data that can be collected…
    • achievement
    • attainment
    • opportunity
    • school culture/climate
challenging bias
Challenging Bias
  • Be aware of teachers’ (and other professionals’) biased attitudes, stereotypes and expectations that can hinder students’ development and opportunities
  • Actively listen to and learn from others’ experiences
  • Acknowledge and appreciate diversity, don’t just tolerate it!
  • Be aware of your own hesitancies to intervene
  • Expect tension and conflict
  • Challenge the “negative” language used to describe and talk about students

ACTIVITY: What do you do when you hear a “biased and/or prejudiced” remark made by a teacher/colleague about a student? Do you react or challenge the remark or ignore it? Why? Is ignoring bias


coordinate student services
Coordinate Student Services
  • Implement scheduling that encourages rigorous course taking
  • Say “no” to gatekeeping
  • Say “no” to tracking
  • Coordinate college preparation interventions
  • Coordinate tutoring/academic/mentoring services
  • Participate on special committees (IEP, G/T) to promote EQUITY
the dropout gap
The Dropout Gap
  • A disproportionate number of minority students leave high school before graduating
  • The schools with the lowest student-retention power across the nation--- “promoting power”—have a minority enrollment of 90% or more.
  • Schools with high percentages of low-income or minority students tend to have poor academic performance and high dropout rates, and schools with the most low-income students are concentrated in urban/metropolitan communities.

Source: Neild, R.C. & Balfanz, R. (2006). Unfulfilled promise: The dimensions and characteristics of

Philadelphia’s dropout crisis, 2000-2005. Baltimore: Center for Social Organization of Schools,

Johns Hopkins University.

predicting dropping out
Predicting Dropping Out
  • To identify who is the most likely to drop out, schools need to identify students who:
    • Receive poor grades in core subjects
    • Possess low attendance rates
    • Fail to be promoted to the next grade
    • Are disengaged in the classroom
  • The predictor that is most indicative of dropping out is whether a student has repeated a grade in elementary or middle school

Viadero, D. (2006, June 22). Signs of early exit for dropouts abound. Education Week, 25, 20.

ninth grade
Ninth Grade
  • A critical make it or break it year when students get on- or off-track to succeed in high school
  • More students fail ninth grade than any other high school grade
  • A disproportionate number of students who are held back in ninth grade subsequently drop out.
at risk 6th graders
At-Risk 6th Graders
  • Attended school less than 80% of the time
  • Received a poor final grade from their teachers in behavior
  • Were failing either math or English

Source: National High School Center (

at risk 8 th graders
At Risk 8th Graders
  • Attending school less than 80% of the time (e.g., missing at least five weeks of school)
  • Receiving a failing grade in math and/or English during 8th grade
at risk 9 th graders
At-Risk 9th Graders
  • Attended less than 70% of the time
  • Earned fewer than 2 credits, and/or
  • Were not promoted to 10th grade on time
at risk 9 th graders1
At-Risk 9th Graders
  • Attended less than 70% of the time
  • Earned fewer than 2 credits, and/or
  • Were not promoted to 10th grade on time
social indicators of dropping out
Social Indicators of Dropping Out
  • Abused and Neglected Students: substantiated cases of abuse or neglect during high school years, foster care placement, and giving birth within four years of starting high school are predictors of dropping out
  • Behavior: Middle school “behavior” marks. Sixth graders with poor behavior have a one in four chance of making it to the 12th grade on time
  • Mobility: Changing schools can be a challenge to high school completion
implications for school counselor practice
Implications for School Counselor Practice
  • Different groups of students will need different interventions
  • Students need to have a “strong relationship” with at least one person in the school!
  • The number of students (particularly middle schoolers) needing additional supports can easily reach 50 to 100 students per school
  • Acknowledge the impact of adolescence
  • Acknowledge the impact of poverty
  • Develop preventative and proactive strategies to mitigate the effects of poverty and other risk factors
  • Have strong school-wide instructional programs, quality teachers, and strong professional development/teacher support
key intervention areas
Key Intervention Areas
  • School-wide Interventions: school-/classroom- wide interventions for all students, staff, & settings; preventative strategies
  • Targeted Interventions: Specialized group strategies for students with at-risk behavior
  • Intensive Interventions: Specialized individualized interventions for students with high-risk behavior
best practices
Best Practices
  • School Climate
  • Rigor
  • Effective Teachers
  • Extended Learning Time
school climate
School Climate
  • Ease the transition into high school
  • Provide rigorous and relevant curriculum
  • Ensure K-12 alignment and alignment with state standards
  • Implement meaningful professional development for teachers and other professionals
  • Ensure that students-at-risk have at least one adult that is monitoring their progress
  • Ensure that students-at-risk have a “positive relationship” with at least one adult at the school.
  • Prepare students for rigor in a way that does not bore them
  • Provide supports so that students stay on track to graduate
  • Extend learning time
  • Provide challenging learning opportunities, even in catch-up courses, so that students remain engaged
  • Align performance standards to college and career readiness
  • Focus on transitions from high school to college and careers as well as on transitions into high school
effective teachers
Effective Teachers
  • Highly qualified and effective teachers exert a strong influence on student success
  • At-risk students must have access to effective teachers with a track record of success
  • Achievement gaps can be narrowed and even closed if economically disadvantaged students are given successful, highly motivated and experienced teachers
successful dropout prevention programs
Successful Dropout Prevention Programs
  • Programs with Evidence of Success
    • Achievement for Latinos through Academic Success: provides student supports and builds bridges between homes and schools. The program employs counselors who provide coordinated supports to students and parents, and monitors students progress and attendance. Special emphasis is on positive reinforcements and group bonding activities. Parents are provided with direct instruction and modeling on how to participate in their child’s schooling.
successful dropout prevention programs1
Successful Dropout Prevention Programs
  • Programs with Evidence of Success
    • Check & Connect: provides trained monitors to small groups of students. The monitors closely follow tardiness, absenteeism, behavioral referrals, and academic performance and met with individual students each week, staying in touch with students’ family members about progress
successful dropout prevention programs2
Successful Dropout Prevention Programs
  • Programs with Evidence of Success
    • Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program (VYP): provides intensive tutoring that focuses on academic achievement as well as engaging students, and includes student tutors and cross-age tutoring groups
    • Talent Development High Schools: provide three supports in ninth grade to help bolster positive outcomes regarding attendance, academic course credits earned, and rates of promotion to 10th grade
      • Ninth grade success academies; schools within a school, wherein groups of ninth graders share classrooms and teachers
      • Block scheduling; double dosing of catch-up courses in math and reading
      • Specialized high school prep classes to smooth the transition to high school
next steps need integrated supports
Next Steps– Need Integrated Supports
  • Put all of these interventions in place in a coordinated, integrated, and comprehensive fashion in schools
  • Establish effective partnerships between schools and social service providers
  • School counselors take a leadership role in the challenge to decrease the drop out rate in PWCS
  • Establish social justice-focused school counseling programs and activities.
cheryl holcomb mccoy ph d
Cheryl Holcomb-McCoy, Ph.D.

Johns Hopkins University

Department of Counseling and Human Services