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FROM THE PRISON TRACK TO THE COLLEGE TRACK: New Report Examines Pathways to Postsecondary Success for Out-of-School Youth

"As a society and as a nation, we must make a commitment to these youth, using the best tools possible to connect them with education and future employment," said JFF CEO Hilary Pennington.

To identify successful programs that help turn around the lives of disconnected youth, Jobs for the Future (JFF) sought the advice of national experts in the fields of education, youth development, and youth employment. They suggested learning environments that have been “unusually effective” with low-income, urban youth. JFF has compiled their responses and issued a report that examines four types of school programs that effectively move low-income, out-of-school youth toward high school completion and postsecondary education and training, with an end goal of access to real employment opportunities.

“As a society and as a nation, we must make a commitment to these youth, using the best tools possible to connect them with education and future employment,” said JFF CEO Hilary Pennington. “A more positive future is important for them, but it’s also for us all, because these young adults are a big part of our future workforce. We cannot squander their energies and their talents.”

The report argues that, for many students, high school seems irrelevant. As a result, they “drop in” to school long enough to get a diploma, but leave without the skills or interest necessary for them to be successful in postsecondary education or the job market. Their less fortunate peers drop out of high school altogether. Although it is commonly accepted that the United States can no longer afford to let students drop out or fall behind if it is to remain a world leader, the JFF report notes that this is a growing trend. “At a time when our country’s economic growth depends more than ever on an educated and skilled workforce, the largest projected population increases are among the demographic groups with the greatest percentage of vulnerable youth.”

While several alternatives exist to help at-risk youth, many programs fall into two somewhat conflicting camps, the report argues. These programs can be simultaneously seen as a “safety net for youth in free fall from mainstream institutions” and an “escape valve for the institutions themselves”-in their most basic terms, a “young person’s best hope” versus a “dumping ground or dead end.” Whatever the designation, the report argues that these second-chance systems have been under-resourced and marginalized, unable to meet the demands of a growing population.

The report profiles four different “best practice” approaches that have successfully connected out-of-school youth with education and put them on a path to further study and solid employment. For example, at Portland Community College’s PCC Prep program, in Portland, Oregon, students are immersed in an adult environment while they complete their high school diploma and take college-credit courses. At Maya Angelou Public Charter School in Washington, DC, the school takes “highly vulnerable youth,” sets rigorous academic standards, provides the students with whatever supports they need, and eventually sends 75 percent of its graduates on to college. The report also examines programs at ISUS Trade and Technology Prep in Dayton, Ohio, and Youth Voices in Philadelphia.

JFF points to these successful programs as evidence that out-of-school youth can succeed, and even thrive, in the right conditions. According to Pennington, many students have been “nurtured outside our schools, on the margins of traditional educational programs, through new partnerships that blur the boundaries between high schools and community-based organizations, secondary and postsecondary institutions, and educational and employment organizations. It’s time to bring what we have learned out from the margins and into the mainstream of educational practice.”

More information about the report is available at

New GED Process in Kentucky Could Result in More Dropouts


Under a new policy adopted by the Kentucky Board of Education, getting a GED instead of a high school diploma will become easier for Kentucky high school students. The change has left some educators wondering if the new system will result in more high school dropouts.

Currently, students who drop out of high school in Kentucky must wait one year before they can enroll in a GED program. The course, which is run by adult education centers, places the burden on the student to seek it out and enroll. The new program would be run by school districts, with high school guidance counselors referring students to the classes. If a student drops out of school and passes the GED exam before October of the following year, he or she would not count as a dropout in the state’s official tally.

Richard Innes, a researcher for the Bluegrass Institute, a statewide education watchdog group, told the Cincinnati Enquirer that the new proposal would put “tremendous pressure on schools to push kids into [adult education classes.]” Jim Waters, director of policy and communications of the Bluegrass Institute, agreed. “We shouldn’t be looking to lower our dropout rates in this way. We should be working to provide a quality education, so students can be confident that if they stay in school, it will be worth it.”

Kentucky Education Secretary Virginia Fox sees the new program as a way to reach out to students that the education system has failed. “If you can pass the GED, we could at least give you a shot at a second chance,” she said.

Read the complete article at


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