ERIC Identifier: ED328958
Publication Date: 1991-04-00
Author: Baas, Alan
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Educational Management Eugene
Promising Strategies for At-Risk Youth. ERIC Digest
Early in 1990 President Bush, in concert with the nation's governors,
named a 90 percent high school graduation rate by the year 2000 as one
of six national education goals. When he did so, he gave official recognition
to a groundswell of school/community efforts over the last decade that
have sought to deter "at-risk" youth from dropping out of school.
Those at risk tend also to be among the "disadvantaged"; disproportionate
numbers of them come from families at or below the poverty level and are
members of minority groups. Thus a solution to the dropout problem is inseparably
tied to waging a war against poverty. The stakes are clearly high and the
solutions involved may stimulate far-reaching, systemic educational change.
One clear indication of the magnitude of concern over the dropout problem
is the plethora of literature generated in response to it. For educators
wanting a reliable guide, both the American Association of School Administrators
(Brodinsky and Keough 1989) and the National School Boards Association
(McCormick 1989) have published overviews of the problem. Countless other
authors have scrutinized successful programs to distill the elements that
might be applicable to other schools and cities. Following are some of
* Begin prevention early--in kindergarten or first grade. Dollars spent
on early intervention can yield up to a six-fold savings in potential future
costs of dealing with children who drop out.
* Aggressive leadership "by school boards, superintendents, principals,
and teachers" is needed to make things happen.
* Parents are crucial. Incorporate them any way you can.
* Specific solutions must be school-based, rather than delivered from
above, and should be woven into a comprehensive K-12 program (Hamby 1989).
* Remedial programs are out. Rather, stress high ethical and intellectual
standards matched to realistic, attainable goals. Offer an "alternative
strategy for learning, not an alternative to learning" (Conrath 1989).
* Teachers and principals need the training, encouragement, and "empowerment"
to become active decision-makers. All participants should understand precisely
how they fit within a clear, predictable structure in which strategies
can be adapted to meet each student's specific needs (Levin 1987).
* Teaching should focus on continuous progress in language skills and
emphasize problem-solving and teamwork. Teachers need to be tough, compassionate,
and professional. They also need to possess a strong sense of how to relate
to the particular cultures represented in their students (McCormick 1989).
* Classes--and, when possible, schools--need be smaller to facilitate
interaction and one-on-one contact with students.
* Districts and state departments of education should serve as resources
and encourage decision-making to be made where it counts--at the local
level. Principals should be freed from bureaucratic tasks to work more
closely with teachers and students (Levin 1987).
* Students should never be allowed to disappear into anonymity. The
school environment should be a place in which students are esteemed for
their unique abilities and strengths (Hamby 1989).
* Educators should integrate their own services and goals with those
of the basic social and health services in the community (Wehlage and others
* School leaders need to mobilize the entire community. Businesses,
senior citizens, clubs, and service groups may all provide extra funding,
resources, and volunteers to work with students (Slavin and others 1989).
To show how these principles have been put into practice, the following
sections describe three representative successful programs.
The Accelerated Schools Program (ASP) developed at Stanford University
by Henry Levin and his associates (1991, 1990, 1987) has been replicated
in more than fifty schools, most notably in a network of Illinois schools
(Illinois Network of Accelerated Schools 1988). ASP accelerates learning
so that students are able "to close the achievement gap and perform at
grade level by the time they leave sixth grade" (Levin and Hopfenberg 1991).
Bringing children into the educational mainstream, Levin adds, means
"more than bringing them up to grade level in basic skills measured by
standardized tests. We are referring also to...capabilities in problem-solving
and communication as well as their educational aspirations and self-concept
as learners." A key ASP concept is the "unity of purpose" that enhances
"the capacity of school staff and parents at local school sites to take
responsibility for the educational outcomes of at-risk students by providing
the resources, expectations, and empowerment to make educational decisions
on behalf of such students" (Levin 1987).
Operational decisions rely heavily on small group task forces and a
schoolwide steering committee with extensive parental training and involvement.
Parents must affirm their children's educational goals; watch their health,
sleep, and study patterns; talk with them regularly about their schoolwork;
and be truly interested. When necessary, services for parents should include
adult basic education. Instructionally, ASP is "constructed on the strengths
and culture of the children with a heavy reliance on interesting applications,
problem solving, active and 'hands-on' learning approaches, and an emphasis
on thematic learning that integrates a variety of subjects into a common
set of themes" (Levin and Hopfenberg).
The Annie E. Casey Foundation's New Futures Initiative addresses "the
failure of community institutions to do what they can do to equip youngsters
with the expectations, opportunities, supports, and incentives they need
to become aspiring, responsible and successful adults" (Annie E. Casey
Foundation 1989). The foundation currently provides between 1 and 2.5 million
dollars annually to five cities plus smaller grants to two additional cities
to fund New Futures Programs, designed to restructure community institutions
so that they can better meet the needs of at-risk youth.
Each program begins by establishing a community partnership (Wehlage
and others 1989) with the general goals of increased school achievement,
reduced dropout and pregnancy rates, and in-creased young adult employment.
"A social experiment in progress," New Futures requires this "community
collaborative" to plan, coordinate, and implement specific youth-serving
programs and "promote fundamental institutional changes." Success depends
on the governing board's ability to identify the youth problems, evaluate
current efforts, create legitimate plans, raise new money and reallocate
existing resources within agencies, and settle "turf" issues over services
Ultimately, Wehlage explains, it is "intended to trigger and sustain
a political process which is powerful enough not only to modify the services
that institutions provide, but actually redefine institutional objectives
as well as how those institutions are held accountable and how they interrelate."
Basic characteristics include early intervention, positive incentives for
both institutions and students, integrated services, increased school building
autonomy, individualized instruction, teacher training and retraining,
an enhanced management information system, and some form of case management
to ensure that each at-risk youth receives regular, significant contact
with a skilled adult.
SUCCESS FOR ALL
The Success for All (Madden and others 1989) approach at an innercity
Baltimore elementary school, where 80 percent of the student population
is "disadvantaged," reflects the research findings of Robert Slavin and
his associates. Built on a commitment to "prevention and immediate, intensive
intervention," the program strives to provide students with extra help
"early, when their problems are small, to allow them to catch up with their
The program is funded in part by the Office of Educational Research
and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education.
In the Baltimore school Madden describes, six tutors are provided for
grades K-3. Each tutor works one-on-one with about eleven students per
day. In addition, the school's half-day preschool and full-day kindergarten
focus on developing students' language skills. Continuity between the classroom
and the students' outside lives is attended to by a Family Support Team
consisting of two social workers and one person in the role of parent liaison.
This team handles home visits, involves parents in school activities, and
makes referrals to outside agencies. A program facilitator works with the
principal, district resource people, and community volunteers. Detailed
teacher manuals coupled with inservice training workshops reinforce the
steady, consistent "commitment to success for all."
IT'S A SOLVABLE PROBLEM
The literature is unanimous in identifying the key to dropout prevention:
think positively and act accordingly--with vigor. Identify your particular
population's characteristics. Look seriously at your district's management
information system and utilize its resources to gather as many examples
of solutions for your particular problems as you are willing to digest.
Pick those solutions that you can personally commit yourself to.
Get the commitment rippling outward. Make the challenge and your goals
public and never stop reminding the entire community of its stake in what
you are doing. Solutions will cost more money than is typically available
to public schools. Help your community to understand this and identify
ways in which it can help. There are as many ways to face this challenge
as there are creative, committed individuals who care about our nation's
The Annie E. Casey Foundation. An Implementation Guide for the New Futures
Initiative. Greenwich, CT: 1989. 127 pages.
Brodinsky, Ben, and Katherine E. Keough. Students at Risk: Problems
and Solutions. Arlington, VA: American Association of School Administrators,
1989. 116 pages. ED 306 642.
Conrath, Jerry. "Dropout Prevention: Find Out If Your Program Passes
or Fails." The Executive Educator 10,8 (August 1988): 15-16. EJ 374 905.
Hamby, John V. "How to Get an 'A' on Your Dropout Prevention Report
Card." Educational Leadership 46,5 (February 1989): 21-28. EJ 383 925.
Illinois Network of Accelerated Schools. Planning for an Accelerated
School. A Two-Day Workshop (Stanford, California, November 17-18, 1988).
Springfield: Illinois State Board of Education. 40 pages. ED 316 595.
Levin, Henry M., and Wendy S. Hopfenberg. "Don't Remediate: Accelerate!"
Principal 70,3 (January 1991): 11-13.
Levin, Henry M., Accelerated Schools: A New Strategy for At-Risk Students.
Bloomington, IN: Consortium on Educational Policy Studies. Policy Bulletin
6 (May 1989): 1-6. ED 309 534.
Levin, H.M. "Building School Capacity for Effective Teacher Empowerment:
Applications to Elementary Schools with At-Risk Students." Paper prepared
for the Project on Teacher Empowerment in the Center for Policy Research
in Education funded by the U.S. Department of Education. February 1990.
Levin, Henry M. New Schools for the Disadvantaged. Aurora CO: Mid-Continent
Regional Educational Laboratory, 1987. 20 pages. ED 310 176.
Madden, Nancy A.; and Robert E. Slavin; Nancy L. Karweit; and Barbara
J. Livermon. "Restructuring the Urban Elementary School." Educational Leadership
46,5 (February 1989): 14-18. EJ 383 924.
Mann, Dale. "Effective Schools as a Dropout Prevention Strategy." NASSP
Bulletin 73,518 (September 1989): 77-83. EJ 396 507.
McCormick, Kathleen. An Equal Chance: Educating At-Risk Children To
Succeed. Alexandria VA: National School Boards Association, January 1989.
44 pages. ED 307 359.
Slavin, Robert E; Nancy L. Karweit; and Nancy A. Madden. Effective Programs
for Students At Risk. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon, 1989. 376 pages.
Wehlage, Gary; Pauline Lipman; and Gregory Smith. Empowering Communities
for School Reform: The Annie E. Casey Foundation's New Futures Initiative.
Madison: Wisconsin Center for Education Research, 1989. 33 pages.