Nearly Five Million Youth Are Out of School and Work. Here’s How Three Cities Are Planning to Reengage Them.

When it comes to reengaging disconnected youth with education and employment, three cities are reaching the same ambitious goals via different routes.

This post was written by Christie Joesbury.

As the saying goes, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.” To create a roadmap and plot a clear course, collaboratives focused on reengaging opportunity youth in the cities of Philadelphia, Seattle and San Diego all recently set or refreshed ambitious goals to reach by the year 2020.

This positions these cities as leaders among the localities grappling with the national challenge of nearly five million youth ages 16-24 out of school and out of work. Notably, the three collaboratives operate somewhat differently and arrived at varying goals by different methods.


Philadelphia’s Youth Network Alliance (PYN) Project U-Turn brings together city leaders, nonprofits, educators and administrators from many sectors to create education pathways for disconnected youth; an advisory group helped PYN update goals originally set several years ago. A new goal statement calls for increasing the number of young people who reengage to 70 percent (from 54 percent among the 2008-2012 cohort) and reducing the number of students who disconnect from high school from 25 percent to 20 percent.

San Diego

The San Diego Workforce Partnership (SDWP) serves as the local workforce development agency, with city and county officials in governance roles. In April 2017, SDWP convened the Flip the Script Summit to announce new goals to develop pathways to reconnect 55,000 young people. The Flip the Script plan calls for cutting the rate of youth disconnection to 7.3 percent by 2020 (from 9.7 percent in 2015). This would reengage 10,800 young people. Flip the Script also seeks to halve the gap between the neighborhoods, so that no neighborhood falls more than 4.4 percent above the countywide average disconnection rate of 9.7 percent. This would focus efforts on communities with high need such as Vista City, where the disconnection rate currently stands at 18.6 percent.


The Road Map Project, a project of Community Center for Education Results, focuses on creating opportunity for youth in South Seattle and South King County, Washington — an underserved area with high rates of childhood poverty and disconnection. The Road Map Project brings together educators, parents, students, administrators and city officials to advocate for changes in housing, health and education as well as periodically update driving goals. In its first specific statement of goals for Opportunity Youth, the Road Map Project foresees reengaging 70 percent of dropout youth within two years of leaving high school, up from a baseline of 42 percent in 2014. Additional goals include supporting 50 percent of youth who reengage to earn a Diploma or GED within two years (up from 20 percent), and ensuring that 60 percent of reengaged youth who earned a high school credential will enroll in higher education, building from a baseline of 31 percent. The Road Map Project set these ambitious targets to close the gap between students in the project area and high-performing Washington schools.

Emerging Lessons

As proves true for many other policy areas, setting goals for reengaging youth allows cities to build an agreed-upon strategy and share a common vision to help disadvantaged young people thrive. Cities can learn from Philadelphia, San Diego, Seattle and others to set locally-relevant goals for reengagement outcomes. Recent developments in these three cities suggests attention to three guiding principles:

  • Cross-system collaboration promotes good goal setting. Lead organizations in each city involved and consulted existing and new community partners across multiple sectors. They also ensured that youth and families lent their voices to shape solutions around a common vision. City leaders played a role on the front end, positioning them to help influence resource allocations that will contribute to reaching the goals. With goals in hand, the lead organizations will facilitate alignment of practice and policy across partners for a coordinated approach. They will achieve ongoing coordination through convenings, newsletters, reports and regular meetings to track and share progress.
  • An up-to-date, close examination of local data supports goal setting and future success measurement. Before setting any goals, the local collaboratives had to study who exactly constitutes the opportunity youth population, where those youth live, and the extent to which current programs and policies meet youth needs. All three collaboratives used internal or external research to evaluate their starting points. Project Road Map set 2020 performance targets by analyzing the achievement across several indicators of student performance in top school districts. The Flip the Script team coordinated researchers from the University of Southern California, Measure of America, the University of San Diego, and 211 San Diego to create its analysis. Cities seeking to emulate successful practices could start with recent analyses of U.S. Census data by Measure of America. Consulting the National League of Cities’ (NLC) guide Sharing Data for Better Results can help cities navigate any roadblocks they hit in their efforts to share data among various partners and stakeholders.
  • Continuously evaluating and adjusting goals over time ensures relevance and partner engagement. Project Road Map released its first action plan in 2014 and followed with an updated plan in January 2017 to reflect new student indicators. Project U-Turn released new goals in 2017 after making progress under its initial plan to improve the graduation rate, which moved the Philadelphia figure from 52 percent in 2006 to 66 percent in 2016.

In recognition of the hard work and national leadership that these examples provide, the Reengagement Network hosted by NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families will continue to monitor progress against these three cities’ ambitious goals, report back periodically on progress, and assist other cities in establishing goals.

Featured image from Getty Images.

About the author: Christie Joesbury recently joined NLC as a graduate fellow from the Heinz College of Carnegie Mellon University. Her program in studies public policy and management includes a one-year apprenticeship with the NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families on reengagement and related topics.