How Out-of-School Time Can Reduce Dropout Rates

Few would argue that out of school learning is unimportant for preparing students for postsecondary learning and careers. Most would suggest that some form of work-based, even workplace-based, learning in fact adds value to a high school diploma. We agree, and propose that these "leaving to learn" opportunities are not only important but essential if we are to keep all students in school deeply engaged in productive learning.

In our recent book, Leaving to Learn: How out-of-school experiences increase student engagement and reduce dropout rates, we identify that the central challenge facing schools is the high level of disengagement exhibited by many students, even those who stay in school and do reasonably well according to our current measures of success. Without such engagement, it is hard to bring young people to the depth and breadth of competence they will need to succeed beyond high school.

So, how do we get the deep and sustained engagement we need?  Based on our work over the last 18 years, we have identified 10 expectations that we believe students have of their schools and of the learning opportunities their schools provide. We consider these expectations as "imperatives" or design requirements that schools must address in creating learning opportunities and learning environments. Addressing these design “imperatives” provides the structure, culture, and climate needed to promote deep and sustained engagement in productive learning. The ten “imperatives” are outlined below.

  1. We will know our students’ interests, talents, and aspirations.
  2. We will start with, and wrap a program of study around, each student’s interests, talents, aspirations, and needs.
  3. We will engage students in meaningful and valuable learning and work, in and out of school.
  4. We will give students opportunities to apply their learning in real-world settings and contexts.
  5. We will offer students choices in how their learning is designed and how their performances are assessed.
  6. We will challenge students to achieve levels of craftsmanship, mastery, and artistry in their performances.
  7. We will give students opportunities to experiment and discover within their areas of interest.
  8. We will give students opportunities for deep and sustained practice.
  9. We will provide customized learning schedules.
  10. We will give students opportunities to sequence their learning activities.
We believe that delivering on these imperatives motivates students to get engaged—to give us their attention, if you will—and learn deeply and productively. These expectations serve as design requirements for personalized learning opportunities.
How do these expectations/imperatives relate to work-based, work place-based and general out-of-school learning? Our thinking is that it is difficult for high schools to deliver on those student expectations without embracing the world outside of schools as an integral part of the learning environment. In the book, we describe a whole typology of leaving to learn opportunities, including, such work-based and workplace-based opportunities as job shadowing, internships, and entrepreneurial ventures. You can learn more about these opportunities by participating in the webinar scheduled for May 22 at 3:00 p.m. hosted by the Alliance for Excellent Education. Prepare for your participation in the webinar by going to
Charles Mojkowski is a consultant, author, and designer specializing in developing non-traditional, technology-enabled schools, programs, curricula, and instructional practices. He is co-author (with Elliot Washor) of Leaving to Learn: How Out of School Learning Increases Student Engagement and Reduces Dropout Rates.

Elliot Washor is the co-founder and co-director of Big Picture Learning. He is a practitioner who works with schools and communities on engaging students through their interests in and outside of school.

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