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KIDS COUNT: New Report Examines Disconnected High School-Aged Youth, the “Most At-Risk” Population

"Today, high school completion is the minimum entry credential for employment with even modest growth potential."

Eight of ten indicators of child well-being have improved nationally, according to the KIDS COUNT 2004 Data Book, released earlier this month by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. However, nearly one in six young adults aged eighteen to twenty-four is not working, has no degree beyond high school, and is not enrolled in school. The report argues that for these “disconnected youth,” the transition to adulthood is “not a time of anticipation and possibility; it is a time of fear and frustration.” KIDS COUNT examines the perils of ignoring this population, and highlights successful programs that are already underway to help them.

“Among the harshest of these lessons is that over the next decade a new generation of children will likely be born to parents whose ability to financially provide for them is severely compromised,” said Douglas W. Nelson, president of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, in Baltimore. “Since 2000 alone, the ranks of these young adults grew by 700,000, a 19 percent increase over just three years. Over 3.8 million disconnected youth face a greater likelihood of bad outcomes, now and in the future, which holds severe implications for our society.”

The report breaks down the disconnected youth into four subgroups-teens in foster care, youth involved in the juvenile justice system, teens who have children of their own, and high school dropouts-and argues that obtaining a high school diploma is most difficult for them. For foster youth, it notes, the dropout rate may be as high as 55 percent. Only about one-third of teenage mothers received their high school diploma after having a child. Youth involved in the juvenile justice system face even longer odds to gaining the educational credentials to succeed. Only slightly over half even returned to school after their release. Of these, more than two-thirds dropped out or withdrew within one year of reenrolling. Five years later, only 15 percent had completed high school.

Kids who drop out-and even those who return and complete equivalency degrees, the report argues-enter adulthood at a significant disadvantage: “Today, high school completion is the minimum entry credential for employment with even modest growth potential.” In 2000, only half of all dropouts were employed at any given time.

These groups, the report argues, deserve the nation’s most urgent attention. “Their risk is greatest, their hardship is most profound, and their current and future costs to our communities are the most significant,” it reads. “If the human tragedy of having so many young people on the precipice of adult failure is itself not a sufficient stimulus to move us to action, it may be useful to consider the likely implications of ignoring this issue.” For example, according to the report, the country will spend $1 billion annually to incarcerate youth, and more than $150 billion on police protection, corrections, and judicial activities.

The smartest interventions, the report asserts, are those that help prevent kids from experiencing the factors that put them at risk for disconnection in the first place. For example, Casey Family Services recruits committed foster parents and supports them with a range of ongoing services. A 2001 study of Casey alumni found that 73 percent had graduated from high school or obtained a GED. The report also highlights successful small high schools, such as Maya Angelou in Washington, D.C., which works with at-risk youth with poor school performance and court involvement; students there have, on average, improved their SAT scores by 18 percent, a substantially higher increase than in the District as a whole.

“We must acknowledge that we will not make any real headway toward the goal of improving successful adult transition without a genuine national, state, and local commitment to the goal. . . . We can invest more sensibly, we can work more efficiently, and we can do better by our most at-risk kids,” the report concludes.

Read the complete report at

Boston High School Dropout Rate More Closely Examined


Last month, officials at Boston public schools discovered that nearly one-fourth of the city’s ninth graders drop out before obtaining their high school diploma. The news came as a surprise to many in a city that regularly reports dropout rates of only 7-8 percent.

Previously, the city reported the number of students who left the system in just one year. Last year, Boston public schools reported an 8 percent dropout rate among the city’s 20,000 high school students. The new data emerged from a Boston public schools report that tracked 3,933 students who were ninth graders in 1998. Over the last five years, 22.5 percent, or 885 students, dropped out of school. Among minorities, percentages were higher: Hispanics had the highest dropout rate, at 28 percent, followed by African Americans (23 percent), whites (21 percent), and Asians (8 percent).

These results from the Boston public schools closely resemble the findings in Jay Greene of the Manhattan Institute’s High School Graduation Rates in the United States, which found a graduation rate of 82 percent among Boston high school students. Although district officials are rightfully lamenting the number of students that they lose, Greene found that most other major cities only graduate 50 to 60 percent of its students.

The complete story is available at


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