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'Nagging And Nurturing' in Middle School to Prevent Dropouts

A lot of attention is being focused on improving high school graduation rates, and the role that spotting signs of trouble early can play. And that doesn't mean just keeping a close eye on those signs as kids enter high school. That means going back to 6th grade.

Researchers have established that tracking certain data points—such as attendance or grades—as early as middle school can help schools identify students who run the greatest risk of dropping out, and step in with help. Work by the Consortium on Chicago School Research and the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins will interest you if want to know about early-warning research.

An interesting experiment with early-warning indicators is going on at a Philadelphia middle school, and it's produced strong enough results that the model has expanded to other cities this year. I visited the flagship site in Philadelphia and wrote about it; the story is up on our Web site. The approach is complex and comprehensive; it blends academic support, an early-warning system, and social supports from two outside organizations.

This model is based on research by Johns Hopkins and the Philadelphia Education Fund. Another early-warning-system approach that I wrote about is based on the consortium's work. That one sends key data to high schools on every incoming freshman, so their teachers and counselors know right away who might need a bit of extra support.

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