Report finds dropout prevention summits had lasting community impact

Duke University evaluation finds majority of working groups created or strengthened in response to summits remain intact and engaged more than a year later

An independent evaluation of America’s Promise Alliance’s Dropout Prevention campaign revealed that the 105 summits helped raise awareness, develop and strengthen partnerships, and influence policies and programming around high school dropout prevention at the state, local and school level. The evaluation, conducted by Duke University’s Center for Child and Family Policy, found that 80 percent of the workgroups established or tasked with carrying out or leading the post-summit work were still intact and making progress 18-months later.

Although Summit attendees were already engaged in the issue of dropout prevention, the evaluation found the number who felt a “sense of urgency” around the dropout crisis increased by 14 percentage points and the number who felt they had a “good understanding” of the dropout problem in their community or state increased by 11 percentage points following the summit.

“When we started this campaign the dropout crisis was often referred to as ‘The Silent Epidemic’ because the majority of Americans had no idea a third of our students were leaving school without a diploma,” said Marguerite Kondracke, president and CEO, America’s Promise Alliance. “Our primary goal with these summits was to raise the level of awareness in this country about the reality of the dropout crisis and its impact on all of us. We believe awareness leads to action which is why this work has been so critical. Duke’s research has been invaluable in helping us understand the impact we’ve had and what we can do better moving forward with our Grad Nation Campaign.”

Between 2008 and 2010, the Alliance co-convened and funded Dropout Prevention summits in all 50 states and 55 cities.  These summits marked the first phase the of the Alliance’s national efforts to raise awareness and drive action to reduce the nation’s high school dropout rate. More than 33,000 policy, business, education, community and faith leaders, nonprofits, parents and young people came together at these summits to discuss the dropout crisis in their communities and begin a dialogue on solutions. The first state Dropout Prevention Summit was held in Mississippi in February 2007 and the first city summit was held in Detroit, Mich. in April 2008.

“Perhaps the most impressive aspect of this evaluation is the fact that America’s Promise Alliance would open itself to outside scrutiny in the first place,” said Kenneth A. Dodge, Director of the Center for Child and Family Policy at Duke University. “This fact demonstrates the commitment by the America’s Promise leadership to genuine change in American society.”

Beth Gifford, Research Scientist at Duke and leader of the evaluation team said, “We found evidence of increased awareness of the dropout crisis, based on reports by participants as well as analysis of media coverage during this period.”

Report Findings

Additional findings from the survey and evaluation revealed:

  • About half of the summits included representation from the state or city’s top public official. (In total, 25 governors and 24 mayors attended summits);
  • Average attendance for the summits was 330 people;
  • Three quarters of respondents indicated young people played a strong and visible role at the summits;
  • Nearly 2,800 organizations participated in the planning and follow-up work around the summits;
  • More than 80 percent saw an increase in political support for addressing dropout prevention and college readiness in their states and communities;
  • 22 new workgroups devoted to addressing the dropout problem were developed as a result of the summits;
  • 13 summit sites reported the creation of a new program or initiative targeted at low-performing schools or students which include a truancy reduction program in Wisconsin and the Youth Print Program in Louisville, an effort between the Metropolitan Louisville Government, Jefferson County Public Schools and the Metro United Way to better collaborate youth services;
  • Several summit sites felt the summit was at least partially responsible for new college readiness standards while two summit sites reported coordination and centralization of state and local data;
  • 27 summit sites reported they were able to use the information gained at the summit to secure and leverage additional grants and funds to support this work; and
  • Nearly all (96 percent) of the survey respondents who are carrying out post-summit work felt the summit strengthened collaboration. Specifically, 93 percent indicated that more organizations were working together around dropout prevention and college readiness issues.

“As a result of attending the summit, Bozeman High School got connected with the Greater Gallatin United Way in Bozeman to secure funding for outreach to parents,” said Kristin Lundgren, United Way of Yellowstone County, six months after the Montana summit. “The funding was competitive, but this relationship helped Bozeman succeed in getting funded. As a result of the summit, agencies are sharing funding in ways they would not have earlier, for example, sharing conference costs.”

To conduct this research, Duke University provided web-based surveys to all attendees immediately following the summit with questions ranging from the content of the event to their personal thoughts and energy before and after.  Researchers also worked with the local lead convener of the event to complete a survey at the six- and 18-month marks following the summit. Duke also conducted telephone interviews with many local conveners and workgroup leaders.