DROPOUT PREVENTION & RECOVERY

METHODOLOGY

Data Sources

Six Pillars of Effective Dropout Prevention and Recovery examines state policies on dropout prevention and recovery enacted between the 2002 passage of No Child Left Behind and December 12, 2009.

Jobs for the Future identified the state policies analyzed in this report primarily through the Netscan and National Conference of State Legislators databases. Netscan enabled us to conduct keyword searches. The NCSL database collects policies on multiple topics across all states, including dropout legislation. Our research team supplemented these database queries by consulting state legislative Web sites and conducting Google searches.

For our analysis of state budgets and the extent of state investment in dropout initiatives, we relied heavily on state government Web sites. For topics related to the compulsory attendance age and public education entitlement age, the research team drew on policy scans conducted by the Education Commission of the States, which disseminates information about state education policies. The team checked the information from these searches by using the Netscan and the NCSL database. Information was updated where appropriate.

We followed a similar process in reporting the number of states using a cohort graduation rate. Here we relied on information provided in Implementing Graduation Counts: State Progress to Date, 2009, a report by the National Governors Association. In assessing the use of cohort graduation rates in the high school accountability calculations, we relied on Achieve’s 2009 report, Closing the Expectations Gap: Fourth Annual 50-State Progress Report on the Alignment of High School Policies with the Demands of College and Careers. Close section

  
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Analysis

JFF’s inquiry commenced with a set of research questions reflective of current research and expert thinking in the field on what makes for robust dropout policy:

  • To what extent does each state send a clear signal to its districts, schools, and students of the importance of high school completion by reinforcing education entitlements and raising the compulsory attendance age?
  • How does each state count dropouts and students who are off track to graduation?
  • Does each state’s data inform a targeted strategy for student supports and high school redesign?
  • Do each state’s policies enable the development of new models and/or the spread of existing or nationally recognized school models?
  • Does each state encourage the development of acceleration mechanisms for academic learning?
  • Are each state’s dropout policies adequately funded to allow for significant reform and improvements in student outcomes? If so, how often is the funding level revisited?

Based on our initial analysis, we identified six model policy elements with which to create a sound legislative strategy framework for dropout prevention and recovery. This framework provides the policy underpinnings of a state-level approach that couples greater accountability for improving student outcomes with a solution set that builds on the most recent and rigorous research about effective strategies and models for prevention and recovery. It also provides the right conditions to support the statewide scale-up of these solutions. Close section

  
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Criteria Used for Assessing Each State Policy Element

The six policy elements that comprise this framework became the point of analysis for examining state policy. We developed a set of criteria for each element and then assessed whether states’ policies reflected progress on each element according to these indicators.

 
 
REINFORCE THE ENTITLEMENT TO A PUBLIC EDUCATION
  • A state’s compulsory attendance age is 18.
  • A state has raised the compulsory attendance age since enactment of NCLB.
  • A state’s maximum allowable age is 21 or over.
 
 
COUNT AND ACCOUNT FOR DROPOUTS
  • A state reports the NGA four-year cohort graduation rate and/or uses the NGA rate in calculations for accountability.
  • A state uses early warning or leading indicators to identify students who are unlikely to graduate.
  • A state has improved data collection and/or  enhanced public reporting of data on graduates and/or dropouts.
  • State government leadership sets explicit and public goals to improve graduation rates/reduce dropouts.
 
 
USING GRADUATION AND ON-TRACK RATES TO TRIGGER REFORM
  • A state’s policies target interventions to provide identified students with needed supports.
  • A state’s policies emphasize high school redesigns that embed student supports.
 
 
INVENT NEW MODELS

A state supports the development of new and robust school options for struggling students and recovered dropouts through:

  • A state-led statewide effort to spread new models and/or
  • Competitive grants that allow for new models and/or
  • Charter priority for Back on Track models and/or
  • Appropriation to community colleges 
 
 
ACCELERATE PREPARATION FOR POSTSECONDARY SUCCESS
  • A state’s legislation allows for credit recovery and/or online learning opportunities.
  • A state explicitly encourages Advanced Placement or dual enrollment as a strategy for serving returning dropouts or students at risk of dropping out.
 
 
STABLE FUNDING FOR SYSTEMIC REFORM
  • The state allocates funding through legislative or budgetary appropriations for programmatic initiatives designed to prevent or recover dropouts.
 
 
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Limitations of the Methodology

This brief assesses the extent to which recent states’ dropout prevention and recovery policies align with the six model policy elements. It is limited to an analysis of the policies themselves and does not address the degree of implementation at the state or local levels. Moreover, it focuses primarily on legislative policy and does not include an exhaustive search of all dropout-related policies and activities by state education departments.


An examination of a state’s dropout prevention and recovery policies is critical to understanding how well they align and build on current research and best thinking on the most effective solution sets for preventing dropouts and recovering those students who do leave school early. However, to fully assess the impact of dropout policy requires an examination of the extent to which policies are implemented at the state and local levels and their impact on student outcomes. These research activities were beyond the scope of this study.


Alternative education policy is often considered part of the larger body of dropout prevention and recovery policy. JFF has conducted a separate analysis of alternative education policy, the results of which are presented in the JFF brief Reinventing Alternative Education: An Assessment of Current State Policy and How to Improve It.

  
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