College & Workforce Readiness

Dropout Recovery: Further Research and Resources for Diplomas Count 2013

By Sarah D. Sparks — June 06, 2013 3 min read
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Whether you call them opportunity youth, disconnected students, or just plain dropouts, there’s limited but growing research on what it takes to bring back students who have left high school without graduating and help them succeed academically.

Diplomas Count 2013 covers some of the key issues and innovations in this field, but if you want to dig more deeply, here are some places to start:

• The U.S. Department of Education’s Connected Educators project is holding a free webinar today on “Partners in Dropout Recovery: Getting Creative to Find and Recruit Students” which will include conversations with practitioners in three states on how they identify and re-engage out-of-school youth.

The National Dropout Prevention Center/Network, now more than a quarter-century old, focuses much of its research and practice on prevention, but also highlights research and best practices for bringing former students back.

• “Building A Grad Nation” is a mammoth annual report and state indices on graduation rates, dropout prevention, and recovery of students who have left. It is a collaboration by the Alliance for Excellent Education, America’s Promise Alliance, Civic Enterprises, and the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University. The project also holds regular policy conferences and highlights best practices.

• “Finishing High School: Alternative Pathways and Dropout Recovery” from the Future of Children, a collaboration of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University and the Brookings Institution, looks at reasons students leave school and finds that mentoring and monitoring are key in successful re-engagement programs.

• “Forgotten Youth: Re-Engaging Students Through Dropout Recovery” from the Massachusetts-based Rennie Center for Education Research and Policy, gives a solid primer on the emergence, potential and challenges associated with so-called “re-engagement centers,” using one in Boston as a case study.

• “Reentry Programs for Out-of-School Youth With Disabilities” from the National Dropout Prevention Center for Students with Disabilities focuses on this highly vulnerable population. It finds very few existing programs that specifically serve dropouts with special needs, but points to some promising practices.

• The Pathways to Prosperity Network, a collaboration of Jobs for the Future and the Harvard Graduate School of Education, focuses on building multiple paths for students to achieve academically and become prepared for a career. It includes some research on alternatives to traditional high schools. You can see highlights of its recent summit on the issue here:

• “U.S. High School Graduation Rates: Patterns and Explanations,” a working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research, finds that the time and effort to graduate with a regular diploma, coupled with the increasing availability of GED programs, may explain why the graduation rate has been so hard to improve even as dropouts face widening gaps in career, health, and other outcomes compared to high school graduates.

Economist Richard J. Murnane, who authored the study, talks about its findings here:

• “Why Students Drop Out: A Review of 25 Years of Research,” part of the California Dropout Research Project, gives a detailed analysis of policies, history and educational theories on dropout risks, based on more than 200 studies of national, state, and local data.

• “The National Roadmap for Opportunity Youth,” a report by Civic Enterprises sponsored in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, lays out the dropout problem and calls for policymakers to pledge to cut the number of out-of-school, out-of-work, non-degree-bearing students in half by 2020.

• The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools annual conference this year will feature a pre-conference seminar on “Appropriate Accountability for High-Quality Dropout Recovery Charter Schools” which will look at ways of evaluating and improving dropout recovery programs, an area still very much in flux.

Finally, while researching this project I was really struck by this StoryCorps conversation between a dropout and his former teacher; it’s just a reminder of the need to listen to the students themselves as educators seek to understand and solve the dropout problem.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.