Disconnected Youth

By Lawrence Hardy

“Why should we care?”  

It was an unusual -- even startling -- question. And it came from one of the nation’s foremost experts on high school dropouts and the growing number of so-called “disconnected youth.”

Nonetheless, that’s how Robert Balfanz, a research scientist at Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Social Organization of Schools, opened his remarks at a Washington, D.C., conference called “America’s Youth in Crisis: Understanding Why Adolescents Disengage and Drop Out.”

The consequences for not caring are dire, as Balfanz made clear: An estimated 5.8 million to 6.7 million young people are not in school or training and are not employed. These young people’s lives are going nowhere, he emphasized, and the communities where their numbers are highest “risk being cut off from the 21st century.”

What will it take to bring them back? The answer sounds simple, but can be maddeningly difficult to implement in the real world. They need “a second shift of adults” in their lives, Balfanz said, people who are invested enough in their futures to call them or reach out in other ways.

A daily call “takes 30 seconds,” he said. “But who’s going to do that?” 

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