Term of Award

Summer 2002

Degree Name

Doctor of Education in Curriculum Studies

Document Type and Release Option

Dissertation (open access)


Department of Curriculum, Foundations, and Reading

Committee Chair

Delores Liston

Committee Member 1

Linda A. Bell

Committee Member 2

William Reynolds

Committee Member 3

Leon Spencer


As the high school dropout rates in Georgia exceed the national average, public concern mounts. The complex interactions of internal and external factors that contribute to students' decisions to leave school before graduation require reconceptualizing the educational process on multiple levels. This dissertation addresses current public school policies designed to prevent violent acts and punish offenders, policies that reveal limited understanding of underlying causes, deterministic assumptions and an overwhelming desire for quick fixes. Interviewees deemed many of these policies not only ineffectual, but also as contributing to a negative school climate that encouraged them to drop out. Furthermore, some participants thought that this negative climate encouraged school violence.

Qualitative research methodology grounded in critical and feminist theories frames this dissertation. The perceptions of ten recent high school dropouts regarding school violence prevention policies that overtly and covertly influenced their decisions to drop out were presented. The participants disrupt dropout stereotypes since most of the interviewees were honor students who had no previous record of disciplinary infractions; had supportive parents who had finished high school; had completed the requirements for a general equivalency diploma (GED) and had plans to attend college. Data collected through individual interviews and focus group discussions suggest the arbitrary enforcement of zero tolerance policies to prevent school violence, as well as the lack of enforcement, contributed to participants' decisions to drop out.

School violence prevention policies requiring out-of-school suspension (OSS) for disputes resulting in physical contact, even if one party was acting in self-defense, contributed to several interviewees' decisions to dropout. Negative perceptions of the school were often exacerbated by dress code violations related to school violence prevention that were identified as being unfairly enforced and ineffectual. Several participants cited the lack of intervention as reasons for their dropout status since reports to school personnel regarding bullying were routinely dismissed.

Participants identified the need for greater sensitivity to individual differences within the school community and the need for implementing proactive violence prevention programs that help students deal more effectively with conflict situations. Students also perceived a lack of care by school personnel related to their individual concerns contributed to their decisions to drop out.


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