When reading the Department of Education’s blueprint for reform for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization, one will easily find language on preparing college and career ready students. However, while ideas are being set in place for students who are currently progressing through the K-12 school system, none of the federal priorities focus on the needs of disconnected youth, or those who have dropped out of the school system. By making a stronger commitment to re-engage high school dropouts on both the federal and state level, disconnected youth will be given the assistance and guidance they need to return to school, earn a diploma, and create more options for college and a career.

Generally speaking, current student re-engagement strategies contain recovery programs designed to meet the unique and diverse needs of disconnected youth: those living below the poverty line, teen parents, incarcerated youth, youth with special needs, English learners, homeless youth, and migrant youth. A disconnected youth program in Lubbock, Texas recently got our attention. The program, which Lubbock Independent School District calls Expectation Graduation, recently canvassed their community in order to seek out disconnected youth. According to Joel Castro, Associate Superintendent for Teaching and Learning in Lubbock, of the 359 youth they aimed to reach, he was confident that they would be able to re-enroll one third upon the completion of canvassing.

The critical aspects of Expectation Graduation that should be highlighted is first, the canvassing itself, the conducting of face-to-face outreach with high school dropouts and second, the offering of personalized, multi-dimensional approaches to securing a diploma or a college/career plan. Now, to stress the importance of the services being implemented in Lubbok, in 2008, the GAO ran a study on disconnected youth and the local programs that assist them. This study noted that across almost all 39 organizations interviewed, a holistic multifaceted approach to providing support services, either on-site or in conjunction with other service providers, was imperative to empowering these youth to succeed. Although this type of youth engagement isn’t new, it’s surprisingly not as prevalent across our country as one would hope. If this is the case, how we can incentivize other districts, states, and even the federal government to invest in this kind of programming?

In order to meet President Obama’s goal of having the world’s largest share of college graduates by 2020, policies need to be explored that implement and support effective dropout/push out prevention and recovery strategies. This population has been largely ignored in education policy debates, and it’s time we make sure that no child is really left behind.

For more information on engagement strategies for disconnected youth: