Jun 13, 2011
The call to action to address the nation’s dropout crisis has bubbled up to the federal level, where policymakers are dedicating funding and offering solutions to improve graduation rates, including proposals to be part of the pending reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Much of this attention is rightly focused on the 2,000 high schools with the lowest graduation rates, which together account for more than half of the nation’s dropouts. However, research and emerging practice across the country indicate that this school-centric strategy must be complemented with one that addresses the specific educational needs of those students most likely to drop out of school—off-track students—in an effort to prevent them from dropping out. In doing so, federal policymakers should draw on research and best practice in this area, particularly efforts in leading districts such as New York City, whose Multiple Pathways to Graduation (MPG) initiative has attracted national attention for its innovative approach, the size and scale of the effort, and early indicators of success. This brief examines the landscape of the federal role in addressing the nation’s off-track student population and explores ways that federal policy can be strengthened to better serve these students. It concludes with a look at the New York City experience as a case study of such work, drawing out relevant lessons learned that can provide valuable context for the federal conversation.