Using Mentors to Prevent Dropouts

IPR economist leads study of Chicago Public Schools mentorship program

Jonathan Guryan

If disengaged elementary and middle school students had long-term links to adult mentors, would they be more likely to engage in school and their academic futures? IPR economist Jonathan Guryan is leading a research team studying how to strengthen student engagement in the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) by providing hundreds of students with such adult mentors through a program called Check & Connect. Working closely with CPS, he will assess the program’s impact on truancy and learning outcomes, with the goal of increasing attendance and graduation rates.

“The motivation for the study came out of an interest in trying to understand high dropout rates, to think of dropping out not as something that happens when kids are 15 to 17, but as the end point of a developmental process that starts earlier and presents itself as truancy or chronic school absence,” Guryan said.

The specific intervention that Guryan and his team are testing, Check & Connect, is motivated by findings that having a strong relationship with a pro-social adult is a highly protective factor against school failure for children—something that many children, particularly those growing up in distressed family and community environments, often lack.

Within the research project, more than 3,000 students in 24 CPS schools are in the treatment and control groups, with close to 500 students receiving the intervention. The program involves mentoring, monitoring, and enhancing communication between school and home. The program’s potential spillover effects on peers of students in the program will also be measured by looking at outcomes for the more than 6,000 control students at schools where the intervention is not being implemented.

Bringing efforts like this to CPS is key, since only 57 percent of CPS high school students graduate in four years, according to a report by the Consortium on Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago.

“School districts are constantly trying new things,” said Guryan. “The idea is to help school districts build evidence about whether the things they’re trying are working. Learning about what works and what doesn’t is crucial for helping resource-constrained school districts across the country.”

Check & Connect is part of a research project supported by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, Institute of Education Sciences, and William T. Grant Foundation.

Excerpt from an article by Jessica Tobacman.