Press release -

Dr. Claudio Cerullo supports keeping students in the classroom & not on the streets

In recent years, many states have focused much attention on student academic achievement, but little on how many students ultimately leave school with a diploma in hand. This is changing: Nearly every state has pledged to develop tougher ways to measure graduation rates at the same time that the No Child Left Behind Act has begun requiring states to hold schools and districts accountable for the results.

Of course, one prerequisite for shepherding more students successfully to graduation means keeping them in school in the first place.  Fortunately, research offers important lessons for districts that decide to tackle the dropout problem head on. We now know a surprising amount about how to identify potential dropouts, and how to keep students in school and on-track to graduate. Districts should pay close attention to these lessons when developing plans to raise graduation rates. Plans that are most likely to be effective are comprehensive and address the following major components as we have found in the School District of Philadelphia through the efforts of the PA State GEAR UP Program:

* Prediction: Processes for identifying students early on who are in danger of dropping out.  
* Intervention: Programs and initiatives to help high-risk students get back on track.
* Prevention: Ways to organize school programs that will minimize the chances a student will become at risk of dropping out.
* Recovery: Options for keeping older students in the pipeline when intervention and prevention are not enough.
* Success:  Providing basic skill development in 9th grade and partnering with business and higher education.

Most students who drop out leave school because of bad experiences in school. Dropouts are twice as likely to say they left for school-related reasons as for family or personal circumstances (PA State GEAR UP, 2006), something that holds true for all demographic subgroups. To identify students that are at-risk of dropping out, schools should look for those with weak grades in core content areas, poor attendance, and little involvement in school life. These factors better predict who will drop out than such characteristics as race, poverty, gender, or family background.   School districts such as Philadelphia can identify a majority of eventual dropouts—up to 85 percent—by ninth grade, and many well before that.  While working in Philadelphia we identified sixty percent of eventual dropouts as early as sixth grade and an additional thirty percent by ninth grade (PA State GEAR UP, 2006).   

Schools need to pay close attention to the transition grades. Students who drop out often struggle making the shift from elementary to middle school, or middle to high school. Even students who showed no warning signs in earlier grades can suddenly see their classroom grades or their engagement in school drop off during sixth and ninth grades, putting them seriously at risk. Paul Vallas notes that ninth grade absences are twenty times more predictive of eventual graduation than eighth grade test scores.

Ongoing, comprehensive, and personalized attention from counselors can reduce dropout rates even for the most at-risk students. Rigorous experimental studies have shown that developing basic skills programs and Saturday Academy’s that provide intensive, sustained, comprehensive, and coordinated interventions can reduce four-year high school dropout rates among highly at-risk students by one-third, and five-year rates by one-half.  Programs that work use counselors as case managers who build sustained relationships with students, closely monitor each student's attendance and performance, intervene rapidly at the first sign of trouble, help students and families overcome obstacles to educational success, and teach students how to solve problems.

Low-intensity programs that provide occasional tutoring, counseling, or activities to boost self-esteem do almost nothing to keep students in school. In a rigorous experimental evaluation of the federal School Dropout Demonstration Assistance Program, middle school interventions that provided low-intensity supplemental services—such as after school homework clubs, counseling, or workshops to enhance self-esteem or leadership skills—had very little impact on students dropping out. (PA State GEAR UP, 2006).

Better preparation in lower grades helps get students on track for high school graduation, but what they encounter in their high school makes a difference, too. K-8 reforms in Philadelphia during the years 2003-2007 improved reading and math achievement, which subsequently helped raise graduation rates (PA State GEAR UP). However, about one in four freshmen who enter Philadelphia high schools with high eighth grade test scores (in the top quarter) fall off track during ninth grade and only about one-third of those students recover to graduate on time (PA State GEAR UP, 2007).  

Relationships and curriculum. Some high schools have better "holding power" than others with similar students. Students who attend high schools that have smaller enrollments; better interpersonal relationships among students and adults; teachers who are supportive of students; and a focused, rigorous, and relevant curriculum drop out at lower rates. Providing more support to ninth graders via interdisciplinary teaching teams or small learning communities (often called "academies") can reduce dropout rates.

Some high school reform models can help students stay in school. Career and Saturday Academies small schools-within-schools that combine challenging academics with career and technical training—reduce four-year dropout rates by one-third. Talent Development high schools employ a ninth-grade Success Academy that provides intensive social support and academic support (doubling the amount of math and reading to help students get caught up). In Philadelphia, a group of neighborhood high schools replicating Talent Development have seen substantial gains in attendance, academic credits earned, and promotion rates for several cohorts of ninth graders (PA State GEAR UP, 2005).

No set of strategies has yet proven 100 percent effective. Not all dropouts show early warning signs of being at risk. So far, researchers have been unable to reliably predict about fifteen percent to twenty percent of eventual dropouts in cities like Philadelphia. For students who are identified, no intervention has demonstrated perfect success. Students who slip through the cracks tend to fall into two groups with different needs: Dropouts who had actually earned many of the credits they need to graduate, and teenagers who are overage for their grade level and behind in their credits.

The development of Saturday Academies in the School District of Philadelphia proved that at-risk students can be successful in their home classrooms and go on to post-secondary education providing they were offered advanced basic skill development that focused on math (Algebra), reading, and college writing, as well as PSAT/SAT prep courses.  The partnership with local business and corporations that provided job shadowing experiences were invaluable to the success of many of our academy students.  The final component to our students’ success was the partnership with our higher education colleges and universities that offered our students dual credit courses.  This partnership offered our at-risk students an opportunity to feel what a college course was really like, as well, as motivate them to go on to post-secondary education, because the incentives were in place to continue in their quest to pursue a college degree.


  • Teaching, Learning


  • dr. claudio cerullo
  • claudio cerullo
  • education

About Dr. Claudio Cerullo
Dr. Claudio V. Cerullo possesses more than seventeen-years experience in education. With six years teaching in Social Science Education. Dr. Claudio Cerullo earned his Bachelor's of Arts Degree in Social Science Education where he was elected President of the Student Government and Education Association. Dr. Cerullo earned his Master's Degree in Professional Elementary and Secondary Education with his concentration in Educational Administration, earned his Doctorate of Philosophy in Educational Administration and has attended educational leadership training in Diversity/Multi-Cultural Education through Harvard University's Graduate School of Education.