Study: Tougher Math, Science Courses May Lead to More Dropouts

A study conducted by researchers at Washington University in St. Louis has found that dropout rates increase with a more rigorous course load. These findings are come as especially bad news since many high schools have ramped up their requirements for math and science, reports Jim Dryden from Washington University in St. Louis.

The research team said it was likely that the increase in math and science courses is linked to the increased drop out rates.

“There’s been a movement to make education in the United States compare more favorably to education in the rest of the world, and part of that has involved increasing math and science graduation requirements,” explained first author Andrew D. Plunk, PhD, a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine.

However, many students were not prepared for in increase in math and science courses and felt overwhelmed and underprepared which lead them to drop out.

During the 1980s and 1990, many states required schools to have more stringent graduation requirements. The researchers looked at 44 states during that time and examined factors including sex, race, ethnicity, along with moving patterns together with the more difficult requirements to see how they effected educational success, reports Science 2.0.

There was no broad benefit found to raising math and science requirements. John O’Connor for State Impact writes Florida was one state that had increased the math and science requirements, with four math courses and three science courses. However, recently the state has backed away from those requirements, no longer making Algebra 2 a requirement. Students are no longer required to pass their final exams; instead the exams are worth 30% of their grades.

Some researchers believe that other factors beside more difficult learning requirements play a large role in drop out rates. Cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham argues that it’s misleading to blame math for higher drop out rates, reports John Higgins from The Seattle Times.

He asserts research shows that motivation, self-control, social culture and the feeling of being connected and engaged at schools can be major factors as well.

The implications of high dropout rates go beyond the actual education. Research shows that a high school education is correlated with health.

“Individuals who drop out of high school report more health problems and lower quality of life. Higher dropout rates also can strain the welfare system, which can affect people’s health.”

Another ramification is the increase in crime that can occur. Areas with higher dropout rates also have higher crime rates. Another study found that if the country’s dropout rate could decrease by 1%3 then there would be 8,000 fewer assaults and 400 fewer murders.