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New Case Study Unpacks Boston's Success at Stemming High School Dropout Rate

In 2004, about 8 percent of students in Boston Public Schools dropped out of school. In 2014, the dropout rate was 3.8 percent. A new report released Monday explains how the city school system joined forces with various community partners to come up with innovative prevention and dropout-recovery programs to get students to complete a high school diploma.

The Rennie Center, an education policy and research organization in Boston, released a case study April 27 on its Youth Transitions Task Force, a coalition of government agencies and nonprofit organizations convened by Mayor Thomas Menino and organized by the Boston Private Industry Council (PIC), to address the dropout crisis.

It noted five key strategies that helped drive change:

1. All participants had a common understanding of the problem and shared vision for change;

2. There was agreement on how to measure results, and data was used to hold all parties accountable;

3. While activities to address the issue were diverse, the work was coordinated;

4. Continuous communication between partners built trust and motivated engagement;

5. And an intermediary organization provided staff devoted to supporting the initiative.

"Large-scale change in entrenched educational issues that are connected to social problems requires all partners within a community to be at a table working together," said Chad d'Entremont, the executive director of the center, in a phone interview. "The reason why Boston had success lowering its dropout rate is that the distict worked with community-based organizations, the business community, and the state department of education and the state legislature....having a diverse set of constituencies gets far more resources available and expertise to bring about change."

The work of the task force will continue, said d'Entremont, as large numbers of students in Boston still are not completing high school. Also, local leaders realize that getting through high school is just the beginning, and more efforts need to be focused preparing students for success in postsecondary education, he said.

The executive director spoke at an event in Boston this morning reflecting on the report along with Mitchell Chester, the commissioner of the state department of elementary and secondary education; Rahn Dorsey, the chief of education for the city of Boston; Superintendent of Boston Public Schools John McDonough; and Neil Sullivan, the executive director of the Boston Private Industry Council.

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