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City Leaders Offer Strategies to Help Dropouts Get a Diploma

At a time when recent data indicate the high school graduation rate is inching up, there still are nearly 2 million young people ages 16-21 who are not in school or have not finished their high school education—and the problem is especially acute in urban areas. Each year, nearly 1 million students leave high school without a diploma, according to Education Week's Diplomas Count analysis.

The National League of Cities released a municipal action guide Thursday to provide leaders with strategies, highlighting the promise of one-stop reenagement centers to serve high school dropouts. The idea is to have one location (physical or virtual) where students can be assessed individually on their academic abilities, learn about different education options, and get a referral to an appropriate school or program to earn their high-school equivalency diploma.

There is a growing network of reengagement centers with successful models in cities such as Denver, Boston, and Omaha, the guide notes. Often it takes state policy changes to support reengagement efforts and the National League of Cities features Washington state as the best example on that front with its new Open Doors Youth Reengagement System. It conducted a study that projected $250 million in savings for every 600 dropouts who reengaged and the state set up programs in 22 communities to serve students.

The guide offers five strategies for cities to consider:

1. Highlight dropout engagement as a necessary complement to dropout prevention;

2. Frame the issue of dropouts as a community problem, not just a school district problem;

3. Develop an effect communications strategy to keep the reengagement of dropouts in the public eye;

4. Focus dropout reengagement on preparation for the workforce, as well as high school completion; and

5. Embrace a cross-system approach, working with juvenile justice, child welfare, and workforce development agencies.

Once a center is established, the league suggests evaluating the effectiveness of its approach and having a plan for continuous improvement. The guide includes resources for cities and school districts to use to explore options in addressing the dropout problem in their communities.

(For more information on trends in programs for high school dropouts, see Education Week's special report, Diplomas Count 2013.)

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