summarized in a recent publication of the Rand Corporation (Grissmer et al., 1994). An effective set of policies to improve the educational outcomes of at-risk students requires that both the in-school and out-of-school experiences of these children be addressed.
This chapter considers school-based strategies for improving substantially the educational outcomes of at-risk students, beginning with an overview of the crisis of at-risk students. The next section examines the prospect of improving the education of at-risk students simply by increasing educational expenditures, followed by a review of cost-benefit studies of particular investment strategies. The chapter then considers a more radical transformation of educational institutions, and a final section addresses strategies for systemic change.
Addressing the needs of at-risk students is important because they comprise a large and growing portion of school enrollments and their poor educational performance has significant consequences for the economy and society. High school completion represents a minimum qualification for the vast majority of jobs in the U.S. labor force and for eligibility for further training. Students from minority and low-income backgrounds are far more likely to not complete high school than are students from other groups, and the numbers of school-age minorities and children from poor circumstances are increasing.
Among 25 to 29 year olds in 1985, only about 14 percent had failed to complete high school or its equivalent (Bureau of the Census, 1987). For blacks, however, the figure was 19 percent, and among Hispanics it was almost 40 percent. For all races, students from families of low socioeconomic status have considerably higher dropout rates than those from more advantaged backgrounds (Rumberger, 1983). Similarly, children from low socioeconomic backgrounds and of minority status have considerably lower test scores than their white and nondisadvantaged counterparts (Smith and O'Day, 1991).
The heavy incidence of minorities and those from low-income families whose children are at risk is particularly ominous because it is these very populations that represent a substantial and increasing portion of school enrollments. Between 1976 and 1992 the proportion of minority students rose from 24 to 32 percent (National Center for Education Statistics, 1994). By the year 2020, minority children will represent almost half of all children 17 and under (Pallas et al., 1989), a figure that has already been reached in California and Texas. Minority students comprise three-quarters or more of the school enrollments in many of the largest cities of the nation, including New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Miami (Dade County), and Detroit (McNett, 1983). Minority enrollments have been increasing at a more rapid pace than the general population because of unprecedented birth rates and immigration, both legal and undocumented. Both factors create rapid growth, particularly among school-age populations.