We recognize a group of students with exceptional needs and challenges. We call them the Most Vulnerable Populations (MVP) of students. Some MVP students are vulnerable because of their identity, such as LGBTQ, while others are vulnerable because of a life event, such as foster care. Other life events we recognize are pregnant or parenting, court-involvement and homelessness. While many different identities and experiences could lend towards making a student vulnerable, we focus on these particular areas because they have consistently stood out in our data. They also tend to be students who can be marginalized or exist between systems that are not always congruous.
Information and data from a national or state perspective tends to be lacking for these students, miserably lacking. When it is present, it is often not comprehensive or strategic (although Colorado is making incredible strides with an evaluation of foster care). It also does not “triangulate” or show overlap between an identity, a life event, and school success. For example, we have not been able to find a recent source that shows—or even estimates—the graduation rate or dropout rate for LGBTQ students, let alone the graduation rate for homeless and LGBTQ students. Yet we know LGBTQ students are over-represented in the homeless population. How are they doing with school? We really don’t know. Indeed, we recognize that a data framework is one of the greatest priorities when it comes to these students.
As you can imagine, we really want to inspire the community to look at MVP students. We also want to inspire the community to develop a framework for understanding them and their school success. We want to encourage this because we suspect that MVP students represent an increasingly larger proportion of the dropout population. As the number of students who drop out slowly declines, as it mostly has in Colorado over the last ten years, we believe these students, and perhaps a group of students we haven’t tracked or identified, will slowly become the dropout population. As dropout prevention efforts become increasingly sophisticated, and as the number of school options reach more and more students, students who still struggle with school will be caught between enormously powerful cultural forces or between systems. In other words, students who leave school will have factors that go far beyond education and the school’s role.
As mentioned, we don’t really have anything comprehensive. One source, which comes from the Colorado Department of Education, shows the graduation and dropout rates for specific populations, and is also known as Instructional Program Types. While this information is immensely valuable, it is tracked because there is specific programming and federal funding connected to it, which require accountability. For example, homelessness is tracked. What this data tells us is that ten years ago, students experiencing homelessness were 2 percent of all students who had dropped out of school. In the 2014-2015 school year, students experiencing homelessness were 5 percent of all students who had dropped out of school. In raw numbers, there were 18,027 students who dropped out at the end of the 2006-2007 school year with 338 of those students being homeless. In 2014-2015, there were 11,114 students who dropped out with 589 of them being homeless.
Unfortunately, this is the only longitudinal data on one of the MVP student populations. There is information emerging on Foster Care, but it is only getting started. And so are we with a truly comprehensive MVP students’ framework. Yet we can’t do it alone. We owe these vulnerable students our collaborative efforts to create something to help them.