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One strategy to reduce high school dropout rates among African-American and
Latino teenagers is to better align counselors and high-quality teachers with the most vulnerable students as they move from elementary to their high school freshman year, a Johns Hopkins University senior researcher told attendees last month during the Education Braintrust session at the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) Annual Legislative Conference.

Dr. Robert Balfanz, associate research scientist at the Center for Social Organization of Schools at Johns Hopkins University, said that analysis of the 2,000 high schools which account for roughly half of the nation’s dropouts showed that four out of five ninth-graders at those schools have either repeated grades making them older than traditional ninth-graders, or are doing
academic work far below their grade levels. Those same 2,000 schools, accounting for roughly 12 percent of the nation’s secondary schools, are where African-American and Latino students are heavily concentrated, according to research by Balfanz and other scholars with whom he has collaborated.

“Four-fifths of the ninth-grade students at the 2,000 high schools need extra help. They need more than just a good lesson every day. They need ways to overcome their skill gaps and become motivated with school,” said Balfanz. “You can see how schools get rapidly overwhelmed. Do we put the educational equivalent of the Army Rangers in those schools? No, we put the least experienced, the most transient, and the most unpolished teachers in those schools.”

Community-based intervention efforts, which might use national service volunteers, could provide the mentoring and counseling to those vulnerable ninth-graders, Balfanz suggested.

Balfanz was among several scholars sharing policy solutions at the braintrust session, entitled “Ensuring the Academic Success of Black Youth: Early Childhood
and High School Graduation Initiatives.”

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