Painting a picture of a "typical" high school dropout is not an easy task. However, researchers from the Center for Social Organization of Schools and Johns Hopkins University, identified four categories under which nearly all reasons for students dropping out fit into. The "four broad classes of dropouts" comes directly from the work of Robert Balfanz. It is described in the paper "What Your Community Can Do to End Its Dropout Crisis: Learning From Research and Practice".
- Life Events
Students who dropout because of something that happens outside of school—they become pregnant, get arrested or have to work to support members of their family.
- Fade Outs
Students who have generally been promoted on time from grade to grade and may even have above grade level skills but at some point become frustrated or bored and stop seeing a reason for coming to school. Once they reach the legal dropout age they leave, convinced that they can find their way without a high school diploma or that a GED will serve them just as well.
- Push Outs
Students who are or who are perceived to be difficult, dangerous or detrimental to the success of the school and are subtly or not so subtly encouraged to withdrawal from the school, transfer to another school, or are simply dropped from the rolls if they fail too many courses or miss too many days of school and are past (or in some cases not even past) the legal dropout age.
- Failing to Succeed
Students who fail to succeed in school and attend schools that fail to provide them with the environments and supports they need to succeed. For some, initial failure is the result of poor academic preparation, for others, it is rooted in unmet social-emotional needs. Few students drop out after their initial experience with failure. In fact, most persist for years, only dropping out after they fall so far behind that success seems impossible or they are worn down by repeated failure. In the meantime, they are literally waving their hands saying "help" through poor attendance, acting out and/or course failure