More Adults in Neighborhoods Equals Fewer Dropouts, Study Finds

It really does take a village to raise a child — and to keep one from dropping out of school. So says a new study from a national partnership organization that brings together business, government, and nonprofit leaders.

The study, titled "Who's Minding the Neighborhood? The Role of Adult Capacity in Keeping Young People On a Path To Graduation," examined the ratio of adults 25 and older to school-age youth and found that, on average, a 1 percent decrease in school dropout rates. More adults in a community keep youth on positive pathways and provide the norms, values, and opportunities to help keep youth in school, the report concluded. The Center for Promise, the research arm of the America's Promise Alliance, produced the study.

America's Promise began in 1997 and is perhaps best known for its GradNation initiative, which we've written about in the past. GradNation aims to raise the national high school graduation rate to 90 percent by the year 2020. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell and his wife, Alma, chair America's Promise, which draws support from an impressive array of funders. Supporters include GE Foundation, AT&T Foundation, Target, Pearson, State Farm, Boeing, Citi Foundation, and the Ford Foundation.

In addition to adult capacity, the America's Promise study also found that when a neighborhood's mean income increases, the capacity of adults to serve as powerful role models for school-age youth increases, indicating the importance of economic and social resources to boost adult capacity to keep youth on the right path toward success in school and life.

Overlapping spheres of influence — families, communities, and schools — shape the lives of children, and all three need to function well for youth to stay on the right paths. No single sphere can do it all. Schools alone cannot boost graduation rates or lower the number of dropouts. Funders and education reformers should pay close attention to this and similar studies when considering projects and programs to improve education outcomes.