Study reveals that City Connects leads to a lower high school dropout rate

High school dropout rate comparison


We’re proud to announce that a Boston College research study on high school dropout rates has just been published by AERA Open, a peer-reviewed journal published by the American Educational Research Association.

The study — “The Long-Term Impact of Systemic Support in Elementary School: Reducing High School Dropout” — found that elementary-school students who experienced City Connects see their dropout rates cut in half compared to children who don’t attend City Connects schools.

Boston College researchers released this finding last year and discussed it in a policy brief. Now, it’s being acknowledged by AERA, the American Education Research Association, which has an extremely rigorous review process.

“Having this study published is welcome confirmation of our impact. Even years after they leave their City Connects elementary schools, students are benefitting from the personalized outreach and support that City Connects provided when they were young,” Mary Walsh says. Walsh is City Connects’ Executive Director and the Kearns Professor of Urban Education and Innovative Leadership at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education.

“There are many pathways to school dropout,” Walsh adds. “A comprehensive intervention in elementary school that addresses a wide range of out-of-school factors can disrupt those pathways, supporting strengths and building resilience.”

The study looked at 894 K-5 students in six Boston public schools starting in the 2000-2001 school year and followed them through the 2013-2014 school year. These students had an estimated dropout rate of 9.2, significantly lower than the 16.6-percent dropout rate of the 10,200 students who were enrolled at the same time but did not attend a City Connects school.

These findings also hold for black and Latino males, two groups that have been identified as being particularly vulnerable to dropping out. The dropout rate for black males in City Connects schools was 50% lower than their peers. For Latino males the rate was 66% lower.

“Our study found that the students from City Connects elementary schools were less likely to drop out of high school than the students who never attended a City Connects school,” Caroline Vuilleumier explains. She is a public high school teacher who worked on this study while she was a doctoral candidate at the Lynch School of Education. “This was true at every grade level with the biggest differences in dropout occurring at grade 9 and grade 12, periods when we know students are particularly likely to drop out.”

These findings are particularly remarkable because City Connects was implemented in schools that were identified as having the most needs. Indeed, the authors noted that these schools had significantly lower academic achievement than other schools.

Students who leave high school before graduation face considerable risks.

“Dropping out of high school has serious individual and social consequences, including hurting employment possibilities, lifetime earnings, and physical health,” Walsh says. “During the period we looked at, we estimate that the program led to approximately 375 fewer dropouts over the course of high school.

“Given that each new high school graduate has been estimated to yield societal benefits of $260,300 over a dropout, staying in high school rather than dropping out is highly meaningful, with an estimated $97.6 million return to society from the groups examined in this study,” Walsh said.

Because the City Connects model uses whole class reviews where coordinators sit down with teachers to look at the strengths and needs of every student, City Connects is able to help schools work with students facing obvious challenges as well as with students who might become “quiet dropouts.” Since not every factor that may influence dropout present itself as a “red flag,” our approach allows the less obvious factors to be identified and addressed early.

“Most models to prevent high school dropout are intensive, targeted, and are not implemented until high school,” Vuilleumier adds. “By contrast, City Connects takes what is essentially a public health approach to preventing dropout, and this research demonstrates that our comprehensive, tailored, systematic student support intervention implemented in elementary school works to promote high school graduation.”

Over the past 20 years, City Connects has been implemented in more than 100 elementary and K–8 schools across Boston, Springfield, and Salem, Mass.; New York City; Dayton and Springfield, Ohio; Hartford, Conn.; Minneapolis, MN; and Indianapolis, Ind. We’re excited about our results in these schools, and we’re excited about our opportunities to keep growing.

As Walsh explains: “We can’t say this often enough: systematically meeting school children’s needs is one of the most powerful ways to help them succeed in school and in life.”

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