Promoting Positive Educational Outcomes for Vulnerable Populations

Statement of Problem

Many urban school districts, Philadelphia included, face challenges of addressing school dropout and promoting academic success. This is especially true for vulnerable populations, such as students with child welfare histories, students involved with the juvenile justice system, students receiving special education services, and English Language Learners.

Given the complex needs of at-risk youth involved with various public systems, it is imperative for professionals serving these youth to collaborate and ensure that services are aligned, adequate, and appropriate. Integrated data analyses can help identify system needs, inform decision-making by leadership, and drive resource allocation. Thus, innovative cross-system data sharing efforts can serve as a solution to address educational challenges and provide resources for at-risk students. 


Building upon the momentum of previous research efforts and driven by the current educational climate, PolicyLab is working on two concurrent projects to support the academic outcomes of students in the School District of Philadelphia.

  1. Supporting the Needs of Students Involved with the Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice System in the School District of Philadelphia
    • Policylab was commissioned by the Philadelphia Mayor’s Office of Education, School District of Philadelphia, Philadelphia School Reform Commission, and the Philadelphia Department of Human Services to examine the distribution, concentration, and academic outcomes of youth in Philadelphia’s public schools involved with the child welfare or juvenile justice system. PolicyLab examined outcomes for students in the 3rd, 7th, 9th, and 12th grades from the 2011-2012 academic year across all public schools in Philadelphia to explore differences in academic experiences based on child welfare or juvenile justice involvement. The research documents key educational challenges and highlights the opportunity for city leadership to align resources to best meet the needs of the diverse student population across the School District of Philadelphia.
  2. Update to Project U Turn’s Unfulfilled Promise: The Dimensions and Characteristics of Philadelphia’s Dropout Crisis
    • Eight years ago, the Philadelphia Youth Network conducted an original study, titled “Unfulfilled Promise: The Dimension and Characteristics of Philadelphia’s Dropout Crisis, 2000-2005.” The report highlighted the dropout rate in the School District of Philadelphia by academic year, identified trends in graduation rates, and outlined predictors for high school dropout. PolicyLab and the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University produced a follow-up report - A Promise Worth Keeping: Advancing the High School Graduation Rate in Philadelphia - to evaluate how the dropout and graduation rate has changed in Philadelphia. This longitudinal study also describes the experiences of specific sub-populations, such as students with child welfare involvement and students who become parents during high school. The results of this project are being used to inform the development of new interventions to improve the education trajectories for all high school students in Philadelphia.

Next Steps

Our work is occurring the aftermath of advances in federal legislation, such as the Improving America’s Schools Act (1994), Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act (2008), and the Uninterrupted Scholars Act (2013), which are supporting cross-system data sharing efforts and encouraging educational agencies to share information.

PolicyLab is working in close partnership with the leadership of Philadelphia’s child welfare and education systems to bring resources to the schools facing the greatest challenges and educating large populations of students with child welfare and juvenile justice involvement. Additionally, PolicyLab is engaging in qualitative research efforts to identify best practices in schools that could be scaled up in Philadelphia and will share these lessons learned with national partners.

This project page was last updated in May 2018.

Suggested Citation

Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, PolicyLab. Promoting Positive Educational Outcomes for Vulnerable Populations [Online]. Available at: [Accessed: plug in date accessed here]. 

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