For Students Dropped Out of School, Local Reenrollment Programs Actually Work

NLC’s 2016 Reengagement census suggests a very positive return on investment for cities that pursue a systematic approach to academic reenrollment programs.

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Reengagement programs gave thousands of disconnected youth the opportunity to return to the classroom in the 2015-2016 academic year. (Getty Images)

The newest census of dropout reengagement programs from the National League of Cities (NLC) shows continuing growth in this field designed to plug a critical gap for several million youth and young adults who lack high school diplomas. The 2015-2016 data collected in the census also suggests a sustained high level of effectiveness at keeping students engaged once reenrolled in most sites, and provides important benchmarking and performance data for program operators. All told, the census suggests a very positive return on investment for cities that pursue a systematic approach to reengagement.

Via partnerships between cities, school districts, community colleges, workforce boards and others, in aggregate the 20 programs across the country responding to the census reach out to 48,077 disengaged students. Reengagement programs assisted 24,140 of those students in completing the intake process, ultimately placing 12,319 students into education programs.

The reengagement programs generally take the form of a brick-and-mortar location where students who have left the traditional education system can go to receive assistance from specialists who help them find their best-fit academic program so the students may complete their secondary education.

This year, 17 out of the 20 reengagement programs that work with NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families submitted data on where their students decided to enroll. Roughly 80 percent of students chose to attend either Alternative High Schools (39.5 percent) or GED/Adult Education Programs (38.5 percent). The remaining students chose to attend online degree programs, charter or private schools, job-training programs and other forms of educational assistance.

To track the efficacy of reengagement programs, the census asks sites to report on their persistence rate, or “stick rate” – the percentage of students who persist in or graduate from an education program in the academic year in which they reenroll. The average stick rate across 11 sites, representing 6,564 students, came in at 70.8 percent, very similar to prior years. The median stick rate stood at 67.2 percent, implying that the aggregate average skewed high as several sites reported very high stick rates. Most sites’ stick rates, however, fell within the 60 to 66 percent range.

Examining the 2016 demographic data, there appears to be little change from prior years’ data. Black and Latino students remain the most commonly reported race and ethnic categories for students placed by sites. The census found a slight decline in the number of Latino students reported from the 2015 Reengagement Census, but that change appears almost entirely due to the absence of census figures from one large site.

Trends among the ages of youth placed also continued as before, with the average reengagement student being 18 years old. The majority of students placed by reengagement programs were between the ages of 17 and 19.

Regarding gender breakdown, there was significant variation in the male-to-female ratios for those placed in reengagement programs. In some programs, males constituted an overwhelming majority of students placed, while the opposite was true in other programs. Ultimately, the average gender representation across sites showed males at 55 percent and females at 44 percent overall.

The census also collected data regarding the grade level of students at the time of placement. The most common category here was ninth grade followed by tenth grade, a pattern that continued until twelfth grade. The census found a few programs that placed students into eighth grade, i.e. middle school programs.

It is critical that students who have dropped out are given opportunities to reconnect back to education options that will prepare them for a successful adulthood. As reengagement programs continue to spread across the nation, NLC looks forward to supporting their efforts.

Join Andrew Moore, NLC’s Director of Youth and Young Adult Connections, and Niels Smith, 2016-17 Heinz Graduate Fellow, to learn more about the study and trends of Reengagement Centers across the country in a webinar on Friday, February 24 at 2 p.m. EST. Register here.

niels_smith_125x150About the author: Niels Smith is a Heinz Fellow at NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. He is currently completing his degree in Public Policy and Management at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College. Contact Niels at nsmith@nlc.org.

Forecasting the Role of Cities in Education

Both cities and the federal government want great schools because they help create a strong workforce, boosting the economy at a local and national level – but the legal and fiscal powers of both levels of government are limited, and the policies of the new administration will likely complicate this dynamic even more.

(NLC)

(NLC)

In the first installment of this series, we looked at the basics of federalism and why it matters to cities. Part two of the series focused on how one policy – affordable housing assistance – has changed with the interpretation of federalism, and what that means for cities today. In this post, we examine federalism in the context of the American educational system.

The expectation that government should provide accessible, quality education for all has become deeply engrained in the American psyche. This responsibility, however, falls squarely on the shoulders of local governments. Quality education is most often a local responsibility, increasingly paid for at the state level, and managed by policies set at the national level. More specifically, states and local school districts have always made the critical decisions about education, from who should teach to what should be taught. The role of the federal government has been more limited; education policy has long flowed from the bottom up, with the federal government often expanding innovative local policies nationally. For these reasons, education presents an interesting look at federalism.

History of National Education Policy

While the role of the federal government in education has been muted, its level of involvement has steadily increased over the last sixty years. Federal interest in schools was triggered by the launch of the Sputnik satellite by the Soviet Union in 1957 and the fear that American education was falling behind on a global scale. In 1965, President Johnson signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, delivering resources to poor urban and rural schools. Later in the 1960s and into the 1970s, the federal government worked to combat de facto segregation in public schools. The Department of Education became its own cabinet-level department in the Carter administration, only to see its budget severely reduced during Reagan’s tenure.

Similar to other policies, education policy followed the trend of heightened national importance during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, with the focus shifting back to the states during the Reagan administration. However, these federal trends coupled with changes at the state level to constrain public school budgets. Funding for education, which has typically been tied to property tax revenues, started to come under threat in 1978 when California was the first state to pass a limit on local tax collection. In 1979, state spending overtook local spending as the largest source of education funding, in effect limiting local autonomy.

Today, the federal government contributes between 8 and 10 percent of the public education budget. This amounts to $55 billion annually as of FY 2013, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Much of this funding is discretionary, which means that Congress sets the amount annually through the appropriations process.

The most recent era of federalism, while hard to define, has largely focused on accountability and performance – doing more with less money. No policy area exemplifies this better than education, and no particular legislation better than the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act. Enacted at the outset of the George W. Bush administration, NCLB was built on the premise that standards should be equalized across states so that a school’s performance could be accurately measured. These priorities continued during the Obama administration with the Race to the Top program, which rewarded states that adopted common standards and broadened performance metrics.

In the Trump administration, the Department of Education will be led by Betsy DeVos. Secretary DeVos has been an advocate for school choice, meaning the privatization of education through school voucher programs and the expansion of charter schools. It is likely she will bring her views on education reform to the Department.

Because of recent reforms to federal education funding, local governments and school districts are under pressure to ensure schools are performing adequately or they risk losing critical funding to privatization. If Vice President Mike Pence’s tenure as Indiana governor is any indication, the Administration will likely move to expand charters and voucher programs. When the vice president was governor, Indiana shifted millions of dollars shifted away from public schools, and more children from middle-income families received vouchers to attend private schools.

Steps Cities Can Take Moving Forward

While education policy is administered at the local level, city governments often do not have direct oversight of their public schools. In some municipalities, school boards are jointly appointed by the mayor, city councilors, and/or the governor. In contrast, many school districts are independent special-purpose governments with leadership that is elected rather than appointed by city officials. In both of these scenarios, the policies of the new administration will likely add to the complexity of local-federal relationships in the education arena even more.

However, whether or not cities are directly responsible for their public schools, local governments can still lead (or expand) educational programs. Many cities offer programs during out-of-school times, either in the evenings or during the summer. These programs enrich the education experience, prepare students for specific careers, or help close the racial achievement gap.

Cities can also use data to improve their school systems. In the City of Nashville, for example, a partnership between Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) and the city-funded afterschool program for middle school youth, the Nashville After Zone Alliance (NAZA), has significantly improved students’ reading ability in just three months. This is exactly the type of partnership and focus students need, especially if they are struggling or falling behind. In another example of partnerships, NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families teamed-up with MomsRising and School Readiness Consulting to produce Strong Start for Strong Cities, an early learning resource guide for mayors, councilmembers and other municipal leaders.

Finally, local elected officials can exercise leadership to support youth education beginning with pre-school, expand alternatives for students who struggle in traditional educational settings, increase high school graduation rates, and promote college access and completion.

To learn more about what NLC is doing in this policy arena – and make your voice heard at the federal level – join us at the Congressional City Conference in Washington, D.C., March 11-15.

Trevor Langan 125x150About the author: Trevor Langan is the Research Associate for City Solutions and Applied Research at the National League of Cities.

Cities Can Lead National Effort to Get More Young People Working Again

Here are three specific areas in which cities and their partners can continue to demonstrate effective practices, adopt supportive policies, and determine what’s needed to grow initiatives that benefit more youth.

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Working constitutes a critically needed developmental experience, puts money in the pockets of youth and their families to spend locally, and builds social capital that pays off over the long term. (Getty Images)

“A country for all, and all working when able.” If more city leaders were to adopt this vision – along with those of us providing support and assistance at the national level – we could continue to build effective local stair-step responses to a nagging national dilemma: nearly six million youth and young adults between the ages of 16 and 24 remain out of school and out of work, and less than 50 percent of youth work each summer.

As we enter into a new era of national politics, it’s wise to recall that the federal government has a critical role in assuring high quality and fairness nationwide in areas such as housing, health care, infrastructure and the environment, under an umbrella characterized by equal justice, equal opportunity, and improved outcomes for lagging groups. And when it comes to scaling what’s effective or signaling what’s important, the federal government has no peer. Yet the intensity of a presidential campaign and transition taking place in a 24-hour news cycle has a distorting effect worth noting that, too often, obliterates individuals’ sense of agency and conveys instead that “it all comes down to what happens in Washington, D.C.”

In fact, in policy areas essential to getting more young people working, cities and their partners can continue to demonstrate effective practices, adopt supportive policies, and determine what’s needed to grow initiatives to benefit still more youth – with more long-term impact. For instance, three areas to consider:

  • Reengagement of Out-of-School Youth: Over the past several years, mayors and other city leaders across the country have jumped at the opportunity to institute structured approaches to help young people finish school so they can reach the baseline qualification needed just to enter the labor market. Those same leaders also witness the persistently high cost of school dropout and pushout along dimensions ranging from public budgets to neighborhood efficacy. With too many young people still not finishing high school, and concentration of that effect in people of color and low-income communities, cities and towns have plenty of reasons to advocate for and support comprehensive reengagement initiatives. Even as the past year has seen an uptick in federal attention to reengagement, local energy and funds will continue to drive the spread of reengagement beyond its presence in some 20 cities and two states.
  • Summer Youth Employment: Mayors and the cities they lead stand at the vanguard of efforts to reduce the catastrophic recent trend of declining work experience for youth and young adults. Working constitutes a critically needed developmental experience, puts money in the pockets of youth and their families to spend locally, and builds social capital that pays off over the long term. Efforts to grow high-quality local youth hiring initiatives with the all-in participation of city governments and private sector employers might smartly leverage some federal funds, but ultimately will not depend on federal sources. Showing the benefits of bringing a new focus to summer jobs programs, to ensure that young people who need jobs the most get jobs – alternative school students, for example – must begin at the local level.
  • Juvenile Justice Reform and Jail Reduction: Cities have begun to join county and state partners in efforts to hold youth and young adults accountable in developmentally appropriate ways. In keeping with the goal of getting young people to work, reducing justice system involvement and attendant long-tail records removes a potentially significant barrier to employment. For those who do develop records, Ban the Box and similar strategies playing out mainly at the local level hold promise as tools for effective reintegration.

Meanwhile, as elements of city government, police departments have a particularly prominent role in shifting what happens at the first moments of contact between an officer and a young person, in most cases away from an emphasis on arrest and toward increased supports or formal diversion and restorative justice. Federal support could promote continued peer learning and sharing about police training, diversion, and related practices, yet has not proven essential in instituting reforms to date. Building out a robust continuum of supports and services for youth – with the major exception of mental and behavioral health services supported by Medicaid – remains a largely local and locally-funded task, alongside training and support for police officers.

Demonstrated local success in these three areas (and others) will “trickle up” to the state and federal levels.  The portion of the youth development field focused on older youth has at least six million reasons to continue generating such concrete successes.

Andrew Moore About the author: Andrew Moore is the Director of Youth and Young Adult Connections in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education & Families. Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewOMoore.

State of the Reengagement Network in 2014 and Beyond

Opening the 2014 Reengagement Plus convening in Portland, Oregon last week, I observed that the Reengagement Network deserves a moment of quiet celebration. Quiet because of recent tragic events in several communities directly affecting youth; celebratory because collectively, we have had a tremendous impact this year.

Diploma - blog(Getty Images)

In my opening remarks, I outlined how NLC’s Reengagement Network has grown in size and scope since its inception, identified key opportunities for the Network in 2015 and proposed priorities to deepen and broaden our impact. Here are a few highlights:

NLC’s Andrew O. Moore delivers the opening remarks at the 2014 Reengagement Plus conveningin Portland, Oregon.

NLC’s Andrew O. Moore delivers the opening remarks at the 2014 Reengagement Plus convening in Portland, Oregon.

  • Over 250 people from 38 cities in 22 states attended the 2014 Reengagement Plus convening. It doubled in size from last year!
  • This year’s reengagement census showed nearly 24,000 young people making initial contact with reengagement programs in the network, 11,500 students placed and 70 percent of those placed in programs completing or persisting for the full school year.
  • The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act now includes a requirement to spend 75 percent of youth training funds on out-of-school youth, and for the first time names reengagement as an allowable activity.
  • Next steps include adopting and pursuing a goal of spreading reengagement programs to every city and town in the nation – particularly pushing reengagement ahead in the Southwest and Southeast, where activity is currently limited. Supporting and strengthening statewide reengagement networks, such as those forming in Washington and Massachusetts is also a priority.

Read the Opening Remarks in their entirety…

Andrew Moore
About the Author:
Andrew Moore is a Senior Fellow in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education & Families.  Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewOMoore. Learn more about 2014 Reengagement Plus on Twitter by searching the hashtag #ReengagePDX14.

Reno Tackles Reengagement

Reno, Nev., joins the growing number of cities across the country that are using reengagement centers to address the needs of young people who have left high school.

Washoe County Reengagement Center Photo credit: Washoe County School District

“Two staff members of the Reengagement Center provided my only support. Otherwise I was alone. Because of them, I’m graduating in June 2015 with my class.” These sad yet inspiring words came from Tara Ebbs, a beneficiary of one of the Washoe County, Nevada Reengagement Centers in Reno who is now enrolled at Washoe Innovations High School.

Blog EMILY 10-3-14-03Tara and her classmate Jose Funes – who says he wants to graduate to set an example for his younger brothers – offered soul-stirring talks at a recent meeting among some 20 Reno-area community partners. With the students’ words ringing in their ears, the partners helped Reengagement Center staff develop a sustainability strategy for the initiative launched four years ago under a federal High School Graduation Initiative (HSGI) grant.

Washoe County is among the growing number of sites in the NLC Reengagement Network working to address the particular needs of young people who leave school. Last year’s graduating cohort saw 608 students leave anytime during high school, and the district recorded more than 700 students leaving during the 2013-14 academic year. With these numbers in mind, Washoe County is embarking on efforts to offer re-tooled and better alternative high school settings, including a Big Picture Learning-model school and schools-within-schools at each of the local campuses.

In their first three full years of operation, with four to six operating sites and a staff of as many as seven, the Washoe Reengagement Centers have reconnected about one-third of the pool of students in the sprawling county who left school recently.

An impressive 74 percent of the students re-enrolled through the Centers have “stuck it out” in school for at least the balance of the school year, placing Washoe County on par with the national “stick rate” for reengagement centers. Largely returning to alternative settings, about 20 percent of the re-enrolled students immediately began earning credits at a rate similar to that of traditional high schools students.

In a possibly unique staffing configuration and operating focus for reengagement, three Reengagement Specialists hold primary responsibility for outreach to former students identified as having left school. Three Family Advocates in turn provide case management services to re-enrolling students and their families, in an effort to remove a wide range of barriers students may face and ensure stronger parental/guardian involvement.

Strategic options that Reno reengagement partners will explore – as in other cities such as Los Angeles and Chicago – include a higher-profile role for city government and other county government agencies, stepped-up or more formalized partnerships with nonprofit service providers with expertise serving the older teen population, and a substantially changed and rebalanced mix of funding sources. The community will also focus on how to keep one or more reengagement hubs going.

Look forward to hearing more from Washoe County as it plots its sustainability strategy – and from more success stories such as Tara and Jose.

Andrew MooreAbout the Author: Andrew Moore is a Senior Fellow in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education & Families. Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewOMoore.