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MAKING GOOD ON A PROMISE: New Report Offers Recommendations for Reconnecting Out-of-School Youth

"The educational system is failing these young people twice," said Marlene B. Seltzer

While there has been growing interest among policymakers and the media about the high school dropout crisis, too little attention has been given to reconnecting dropouts who want to pursue an education and move toward a productive adulthood. So says Making Good on a Promise: What Policymakers Can Do to Support the Educational Persistence of Dropouts, a new report from Jobs for the Future (JFF) that examines how far society is from “making good” on the promise of a second chance to high school dropouts.

“The educational system is failing these young people twice,” said Marlene B. Seltzer, president and CEO of JFF. “Too often, schools do not keep them engaged in learning the first time around; then when they try to go back and complete their education the system provides inadequate options. Anyone who demonstrates such persistence ought to have every opportunity to better themselves and contribute something positive to society. And everyone deserves the quality education promised to them.”

Using data from the National Educational Longitudinal Study, which tracked the educational progress of approximately 25,000 eighth graders in 1988 over 12 years, the report challenges popular stereotypes about dropouts. It finds that dropping out is a “full-fledged epidemic in central cities and other low-income communities.” The report adds that dropouts come from all walks of life and even include about 10% of young people from families in the highest two socioeconomic status levels.

Also challenged is the belief that dropouts are overwhelmingly African American or Hispanic. The report points out that socioeconomic status, not race, is the key indicator in predicting a future dropout. “Black and Hispanic youth are no more likely to drop out of high school than their white peers of similar family income and education,” it reads. In fact, white students from the lowest socioeconomic group, at 41%, are actually more likely to drop out than their African-American (30%) or Hispanic classmates (37%) from the same income level. However, dropouts are more of an issue in black and Hispanic communities; whereas Hispanic students make up nearly half of all students in the lowest income quartile (48%), and black students make up 36%; white students only account for 13% of the lowest income quartile.

Similar to reports from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the American Youth Policy Forum, the JFF report found that most dropouts do not lack motivation, but instead they are “remarkably persistent” in their efforts to complete a secondary education. In fact, close to 60% of dropouts eventually earn a high school credential, but only 10% earn a high school diploma. The rest-about 49%-earn their GED. After obtaining a high school credential, roughly half of these students (44%) later enroll in a 2- or 4-year college, but only about 10% ultimately earn a postsecondary degree.

Hoping to increase the numbers of dropouts who persist to postsecondary degrees, the report’s authors offer several recommendations to help dropouts reconnect to the education system and take advantage of their second chance at an education. Because so many students do not follow the traditional pathway of 4 years in high school followed by 2-4 years of postsecondary study, the report calls for new pathways to college, especially for minority students and individuals from low-income communities. “Closing the high school graduation gap between rich and poor, and white and black or Hispanic youth, will mean targeting high school reform activity, new school creation, and other dropout prevention and recovery strategies to schools and districts with high concentrations of low-income students,” the report reads. Specifically, the potential of small schools and charter schools is cited as a central strategy in this effort.

The report calls for a redesign of dropout recovery programs to “build on student aspirations and reflect the demands of the knowledge-based economy.” Currently, most GED programs do not prepare young people to enroll-and succeed in-postsecondary education. There are exceptions; New York City and Boston have combined various resource streams to help dropouts attain a high school diploma and college degree or certificate that leads them to self-sufficiency. Flexible schedules and curricula are key features of these programs, which help address the family and economic responsibilities of older learners. Community colleges, the report notes, could also act as a “potentially powerful bridge” into the education system or labor market for dropouts. However, they are currently not sufficiently connected to GED and other credentialing programs. The report challenges states to “assess the effectiveness of their GED delivery systems and the extent to which GED delivery programs are linked to postsecondary institutions and credentialing programs.”

The report also makes several recommendations that could be addressed under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). It calls for K-12 education accountability systems to “emphasize a dual agenda” of higher graduation rates and higher academic standards. Currently, NCLB holds states accountable if subgroups of student populations in schools and districts do not regularly improve their achievement levels as a measure of Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). This is not true for graduation rates. Under the report’s recommendation, states would shift from an emphasis on test scores alone to an equal consideration of test scores and graduation and dropout rates. “This shift will require states to invest in building data systems that use a uniform four-year cohort graduation rate … Such an investment will enhance the capacity of states to move students up to higher standards without losing a significant number of them along the way,” it reads.

The complete report is available at

Save the Date: National Schools to Watch Annual Conference


On June 22-24, the National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform will hold its National Schools to Watch Annual Conference. Schools to Watch is a national program that identifies and honors middle schools in an effort to inform others on how to achieve academic success through best practices.

The conference will include education experts, professors, policymakers, and teams from Schools to Watch sites from across the country. It will also provide a forum for sharing real-world success stories as well as planning and reflection sessions that will allow educators in current and future Schools to Watch sites to exchange ideas and proven solutions.

Conference sessions will feature research-based practices from Schools to Watch sites from around the country, current strategies on effective practices to meet Adequate Yearly Progress, tips for creating supportive cultures, and suggestions for advocating on behalf of young adolescents. It will also feature a session for schools interested in becoming a School to Watch.

More information, including registration details and a conference brochure, is available at


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Every Child a Graduate. Every Child Prepared for Life.