Military discipline helps dropouts

The  National Guard’s Youth Challenge is the “most successful large-scale program yet evaluated to help dropouts,” reports the New York Times.

Nine months after participants left the program, they were 36 percent more likely than those in the control group to have obtained a G.E.D. or a high school degree. They were more than three times as likely to be attending college and 9 percent more likely to be working full time.

Youth Challenge recruits dropouts without felony records; it expels those who “fail a drug test, steal or fight.” About 20 percent drop out, usually in the first few weeks. But those who stick with it usually complete a GED.  Half go into civilian jobs; 15 to 20 percent join the military.

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  1. I think that the whole issue of discipline is (one of) the elephant (s) under the rug. Schools or school systems get bad publicity if their suspension/expulsion rate is too high, eapecially if the culprits are disproportionately black or Hispanic. In DC, Michelle Rhee just said that one of her goals is to reduce that rate. The least of her 5 categories is chronically disruptive, but not dangerous; )one of) the kinds of kids who make learning impossible for the rest of the class.

    I’m in favor of removing ALL disruptive kids, regardless of the reason, from the classroom. If that means discarding mandatory mainstreaming for all and the establishment of classes/schools for the chronically disruptive, so be it. After permanent removal of all dangerous kids, of course. Why not look at military non-coms to work with these (teenage) kids – teach them that respect has to be earned?

    I’ve never seen or heard of a good school that was not safe and orderly. Public schools didn’t used to tolerate bad behavior; why are we making excuses for it now?

  2. Sorry about the typos; better proofreading needed.

  3. Margo/Mom says:


    I think it is very easy to confuse the symptoms with the disease. When we are looking at the number of kids suspended, this is an indication of a discipline problem. Too many people assume that the “cure” is to stop suspending kids. Where the really effective work lies is in building a school community that prevents, rather than exacerbates problematic behavior. For the most part the “get the disrupters out” mode of thinking tends to prevent this from happening–and may even influence choices in the direction of pushing kids out, rather than figuring out how to teach them.

    It would certainly be helpful to know what the Youth Challenge program is providing that is helpful. There are a number of reports on the kindergarten to prison pipeline and how it affects low-income, minority males disproportionately. The kids who end up in the juvenile justice system (and later in the adult justice system) are also disproportionately learning disabled and likely to be affected by mental health problems. So–while it is helpful to know that the National Guard is achieving some success at reclaiming drop-outs, I think that the wiser route is to prevent drop-out. I know that others do not agree with me on this.

  4. I’ve read that it is possible/likely (depending on the source) that a significant number of those labelled learning disabled are kids who have never been taught to read properly. The lower the SES status, the more dependent the kids are on in-school intervention. Kids who are so far behind that they can’t understand are also more likely to be disruptive. I don’t think there’s much risk in using a strong, phonics-based, real math, real liberal arts DI program. That’s one way to try to prevent discipline problems, educational failure and dropouts – how much worse can it be?

  5. Cardinal Fang says:

    It looks like a good program, but the statistics they use are deeply misleading. This is a program that’s self-selecting: dropouts volunteer to join the program, and students who break the rules are ejected. So it’s ridiculous to compare students who complete the program with students who didn’t volunteer to join it.

    The proper statistic would be to compare students who *start* the program with students who volunteered to start it but for some reason beyond their control couldn’t be in it, perhaps because there weren’t enough slots.

  6. Cardinal Fang says:

    Oops, I should read more carefully. Always click the link! In this case, the link leads to a story that’s behind a paywall, but Google News comes to the rescue. And looky here:

    The early results of a national study comparing youths who qualified for the program and were then admitted or denied on a random basis suggest that Youth Challenge may be the most successful large-scale program yet evaluated to help dropouts.

    I’ll just shut up and slink away now.

  7. Cardinal Fang – nice to see your honesty. (I know I sometimes tend to shut up and slink away without saying so).

  8. Margo/Mom says:


    I think that you are right on both counts–the need for an adequate comparison group, and in pointing out the adequacy of the group that they use. I think that places this program in a good fall-back position. We should be paying attention to what they are doing and whether or not it can be more broadly implemented among the population of drop-outs who are willing to continue their education (BTW–Job Corps is another program that has shown some promise with completion).

    But, mo4 also has something of value in pointing out how many kids with labels (who end up in the drop out pool) may be kids who were never adequately taught to read. Sad to say (because I am not inclined in that direction) the DI folks do have something to offer. I would love to see some research really teasing apart the essential elements of DI. We know about the scripted approach and the intense emphasis on phonetic awareness. I observed a lesson one day (with my son–who exhibited profound disinterest and amused himself on a classroom computer while I observed). Some elements amongst the heavy repitition and sing-song delivery that I noted (in addition to the scripted delivery, which does ensure that there is an order to teaching that is guaranteed, regardless of the human being in front of the class), is the emphasis on constant engagement of every kid. I would consider the call and response and the finger snaps to be pretty clunky ways of achieving it, but, on the other hand, it is low-tech, easily available and involves multiple senses. Imagine how these elements might be incorporated into computer programs that could be individually paced. Finger snaps might be replaced with all kinds of bells and whistles. Rewards could be individually paced and might include such engaging features as individual reading time.

    In fact, one of the elements that has been studied as a part of Positive Behavior Support (which uses number of office referrals as a key indicator), and found to be successful, is using strategies to keep every student individually involved. They have used individual chalkboards to write on and hold up the answers, working in pairs to give and receive answers. Again, pretty low-tech, but readily available–and based on their research, these things tend to increase the available time for teaching by minimizing disruptions for discipline (including office referrals–which frees up administrative time for other tasks more closely related to supporting the learning environment).

  9. Margo/Mom-
    I do remember such computer programs back in use during my elementary and middle school days – Computer Assisted Instruction. Straightforward, self-paced DI-based lessons that effectively forced every student to participate… and this was back in the day of Pentium 1-based computers. Don’t see much of it now… actually, the few instances of it I know of now are all at the college level.