A new study revealed the importance of having enough adults in a community to ensure success for young individuals. /Courtesy photo
A new study revealed the importance of having enough adults in a community to ensure success for young individuals. /Courtesy photo

The number of homeless families in the District has soared by more than 30 percent from a year ago, according to a report earlier this year — the first time since the annual census began in 2001 that homeless children and their parents outnumbered homeless single adults.

The report noted that on one day in late January, officials counted 4,667 homeless children and their parents, compared to 3,683 single adults.

Now, in a new and first-of-its-kind study, the Center for Promise at Boston University’s School of Education has found that for every seven more adults in a neighborhood in the United States, one fewer young person leaves school.

The study revealed how a community’s adult-to-youth ratio affects high school graduation rates. Researchers have provided a public access map that will allow everyone to see the ratios by zip codes, including all D.C. neighborhoods.

“Young people need an array of social supports to get on and stay on a positive educational course,” said Jonathan Zaff of Boston University School of Education, the executive director of the Center for Promise and lead author of the study. “Without a sufficient number of adults in a community, young people might not have access to these supports.

“Supportive relationships — with mentors, teachers, coaches, faith leaders, other school and nonprofit staff — constitute a web of support that can keep young people engaged in school and connected to their communities,” Zaff said.

The study, titled: “Who’s Minding the Neighborhood? The Role of Adult Capacity in Keeping Young People on a Path to Graduation,” supports the GradNation campaign to raise high school graduation rates to 90 percent by 2020, Boston University officials said.

While there has been a steady improvement in the overall rate of youth quitting school, from a high of 14 percent in 1970 down to 6 percent in 2010, researchers have long noted substantial variation by state, city and neighborhood.

Using Decennial Census data from 1970 to 2010, Center for Promise researchers looked into reasons for the variation.

Focused solely on metropolitan areas throughout the United States, researchers examined the ratio of adults 25 and older to school-aged youth ages 6 to 17 in a zip code to understand whether the number of adults affects the “status dropout rate,” or the number of young people who leave school before graduating.

The researchers use a community’s adult-to-youth ratio as a proxy for determining a community’s “adult capacity.”

While some researchers have studied adult-to-youth ratios in the United States, none have looked at the implications of these ratios on education, the study’s authors noted.

Among the key findings were that the adult capacity in a community is related to a decrease in the rate of youth leaving school.

A 1 percent increase in the adult-to-youth ratio results in a 1 percent decrease in the rate of young people leaving school. In real-world terms, this result means that for every seven additional adults in the neighborhood, one fewer young person leaves school early.

The study also found that race matters, specifically in predominantly African-American communities, in amplifying this effect.

The effect of the adult-to-youth ratio is amplified in neighborhoods that are comprised mostly of black residents, increasing the effect by 10 percent in those communities.

Since the average black resident lives in a neighborhood that is approximately two-thirds black in 11 of the 100 largest metropolitan areas in the country, the potential benefits of this amplified effect cannot be underestimated, the authors said.

Researchers found that income also matters in increasing the effect of adult capacity.

The adult-to-youth ratio effect is amplified in higher-income communities. The analysis shows that doubling a neighborhood’s mean income increases the effect size of the ratio by 12 percent. This finding indicates that adults need institutional, social and economic resources — supported by income — to most effectively help young people.

A higher level of educational attainment among adults in the community did not have a significant effect. Therefore, all adults, regardless of their educational attainment, can play a role in keeping young people on a path to graduation.

“While the U.S. high school graduation rate continues to climb, there are still nearly 700,000 16- to 19-year-olds who are not in school and who do not have a high school diploma,” Zaff said. “We must continue to examine why young people leave high school without graduating, how communities and the systems that surround them can improve young people’s prospects for graduation, and the ways that adults can support young people’s success beyond graduation. Not doing so could have enormous, negative economic and social impacts.”

To find the adult-to-youth ratio in your neighborhood, visit the Community Commons website at https://goo.gl/vdr7x1. To read the full report, access graphics and other resources, including a longer working paper on the topic, visit http://www.AmericasPromise.org/resource/adult-capacity-study.

Stacy M. Brown is a senior writer for The Washington Informer and the senior national correspondent for the Black Press of America. Stacy has more than 25 years of journalism experience and has authored...

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