Saturday, January 3, 2009

Federal Office of Multiple Pathways to Graduation

Accelerating Integration of Multiple Pathways to Graduation into College Readiness Agendas

Given that a number of cities have developed a data-driven approach to improving high schools AND better serving the student that are off-track to graduation (who without whelp will become dropouts), what can we do to accelerate the number of districts that are actively embracing policies and strategies to address the dropout crisis? One thing to do is establish an Office Of Multiple Pathways to Graduation within federal and state Departments of Education.


On November 13-15, I attended the Multiple Education Pathways Learning Exchange sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL). As you know, the USDOL invested $2,950,000 in funding to six cities to expand upon the methodology referred to as Multiple Pathways to Graduation to stem the tide of young people that leave school without their high school diploma as developed by Boston, Chicago, New York City, Philadelphia and Portland, OR. Nearly 300 community leaders from over 40 cities – school district, business, higher education, community organizations – committed the time and money to come to the Learning Exchange to learn from the cities that are forging ahead.

Furthermore, the Alternative High School Initiative funded by the Gates Foundation is getting increasing interest from cities to expand the number of alternative schools such as Diploma Plus and Communities in School’s Performance Learning Centers. As cities begin to confront their low graduation rates they are trying to expand the number of transfer or alternative schools designed to help students get back on track to graduation. This is a critical step as most cities have less than 10% of the necessary slots to serve the number of students that are over-age and under-credit.

Given the enormous appetite for a strategic approach to address the dropout crisis, the following is a strategy to accelerate the process of district adaptation of the Multiple Pathways to Graduation framework to stem the tide of students leaving school unprepared for the 21st century workforce.

Rationale for Investing in the Multiple Pathways to Graduation Framework

• Cost-effective use of increasingly scarce resources: The Multiple Pathways to Graduation framework is the only data-driven approach to addressing the dropout crisis. Without the framework in place along with the baseline segmentation analysis, schools and cities are left throwing services at children without any way of knowing if it is making a difference. A representative from Brockton Public Schools drew out this point by describing how they found that of all the students on the early warning list not one of them was receiving services through the primary mentoring program.

• Without intervention, the challenge of disconnected youth will swamp cities and lead to a generation of young families without attachment to education and work. The challenges of the disconnected youth population are only going to get larger under the economic crisis. Even before the crisis, the absolute numbers of young people without a diploma or the skills to connect effectively with the labor market were growing. The only way to stop a whole new generation of young families grow up in poverty is to dramatically increase the number of students completing their high school education and building the fundamental skills that will allow them to succeed in the 21st century economy.

Establish Office of Multiple Pathways to Graduation in Federal and State Department’s of Education

Establishing and Office of Multiple Pathways to Graduation in Federal and State Departments of Education can play three critical roles as described below. There is significant opportunity to structure a federal Office of Multiple Pathways to Graduation as a public/private partnership assuming that the office is established within the Department of Education.

• Signal that increasing graduation rates is equally important as increasing achievement. It is critical that the efforts to increase college readiness be balanced and bolstered by explicit strategies to increase graduation rates. Currently the overall policies toward high school reform are based on system alignment rather than system analysis. Although at first glance this appears to be a sound approach, it is built on the assumption that all students will follow a linear path to graduation. System alignment efforts also fail to address the issue of what happens to children when they fall off –track to graduation.

• Establish incentives for districts to establish data-driven efforts to keep more students on-track and help off-track students get their diploma. Minimal levels of funding can act as incentives for districts to complete the data analysis, establish early warning systems and refine accountability systems to create incentives for schools to continue educating students that are off-track. The US DOL has demonstrated that with less than $250,000 per year cities and districts will take on the overhaul of their education systems and re-organize resources around students that are off-track to graduation.

• Create incentives for districts to expand the number and type of transfer (alternative) schools to reach 20% of students that are off-track to graduation. Evidence from leading cities suggest that at most 10% of the need for schools are available to support students off-track to graduation. In many states, there are financial disincentives for districts to expand the number of transfer schools. Federal and state policy incentives can be established as well as philanthropic dollars to establish low-interest revolving loans to establish more schools. Finally, greater innovation will be needed to address the needs of students that are dropping out of school with elementary level literacy skills.

• Broker relationships to support peer-to-peer networking among districts and communities to accelerate learning and encourage innovations. By using social network theory and effective practices of knowledge transfer, Offices of Multple Pathways to Graduation can help districts learn from each other, offer critical resources on-line, while simultaneously building up a cadre of new leaders with abilities to support systemic reforms.

In conclusion, it is critical that the leadership of efforts related to Multiple Pathways to Graduation is centered in Departments of Education, otherwise school districts will not heed the importance of this work. Yet, it is equally important that formal partnerships are established with efforts within Departments of Labor and if possible, those departments overseeing mental health, child welfare and juvenile justice.

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