Sunday, January 6, 2013
Help for the high school dropout rate
By Alan Leventhal
EQUAL OPPORTUNITY for education has been a social and moral
imperative of our society. In the looming budget battles, it is now an
economic imperative. The secondary education system annually produces 1
million dropouts nationally — 10,000 in Massachusetts alone — at a
staggering cost to society.
The cost of a dropout over a lifetime has been estimated at up to
$500,000 in lost wages, increased entitlements, and criminal justice
spending. If the dropout rate can be reduced by one-half to 500,000
annually, savings will approach $250 billion over the lifetime of each
graduating class. Over a 10-year period this would represent lifetime
savings of almost $2.5 trillion. In the context of our budget
challenges, this is real money.
There are clear early indicators that predict the students most
likely to drop out, including poor attendance, behavior problems, and
failure in either math or English. Research shows that a sixth grader
who exhibits just one of the indicators has less than a 20 percent
likelihood to graduate high school. It is for this reason that City
Year, in partnership with Neighborhood House Charter School of
Dorchester, embarked on a three-year pilot program to reduce the dropout
rate by keeping students on track. City Year, a Boston-born national
nonprofit, deploys teams of young people to serve in high-poverty
schools nationwide. Neighborhood House is an innovative K-8 charter
school whose student population represents the demographics and learning
issues of high-needs schools nationally. The goal of the pilot is to
channel the passion and energy of national service in a focused way and
have a significant and measurable impact on student success in high
The pilot is working, producing measurable results and demonstrating
the significant impact a trained City Year team has on student success.
For example, the number of students in the warning category for English
and math was reduced by 50 percent. Off-track students who consistently
completed their homework increased 54 percent to 88 percent.
What is compelling is that passionate and dedicated young men and
women committed to a year of national service can make a difference in
one of our most pressing national issues. And utilizing national service
volunteers to help at-risk students in high-poverty areas get back on
track to graduation is highly scalable. Young people are stepping
forward in record numbers to volunteer for national service. In the past
year, there were nearly 600,000 applications to AmeriCorps for only
The pilot is demonstrating the significant impact a trained City Year team has on student success.
Building on the enthusiasm for national service, City Year announced
last spring its plan for the next decade to bring full-time tutors,
mentors, and role models into 1,200 high-poverty schools in 38 cities
nationwide. The goal is to help 1 million students stay on track for
graduation from high school.
Funding for this initiative does not rely solely on the federal
government. As a measure of the importance and effectiveness of this
effort, local school districts and private philanthropies are providing
matching funding, representing two-thirds of the cost.
Boston has been known for innovation and new ideas. Charter schools
were established with the expectation that they would serve as a
laboratory for new approaches to improving education. The partnership of
City Year and Neighborhood House is one example of scaling new ideas to
have a major impact nationally. Already, City Year is in 21 Boston
schools. To be transformational, we need to encourage more such
The dropout rate has reached crisis levels. We are alienating a
generation of Americans, which not only has a great social impact, but
also major long-term economic consequences. Investment in programs that
succeed in graduating more youths should be a clear social and economic
Alan Leventhal is chairman and chief executive officer of Beacon Capital Partners.