LOS ANGELES -- An effort to reduce dropouts by guaranteeing a job or college admission to every inner-city youth with a good high school record has begun to spread nationwide, with programs beginning here and in seven other cities this fall.
The scheme -- patterned after a five-year-old joint private and government program in Boston -- is under way in Baltimore. National education experts say its sudden popularity in several regions could lead the Washington area to consider it, particularly given the District's successful summer jobs program.
Los Angeles' Genesis program is scheduled to begin this fall in six high schools -- three predominantly black and three predominantly Latino. Seniors are to be promised jobs within a year of their graduation if they complete the school year with at least a 2.5 (C+ to B-) grade-point average and 95 percent attendance.
In Boston, which last year found jobs or colleges for 967 of the city's 3,000 graduating seniors, program managers say the truancy rate has dropped.
James Darr, executive director of the Boston Private Industry Council, which helps to sponsor the effort, said the average daily attendance rate in the city's schools has climbed from 77 percent to 85 percent, an average increase of 17 more days of school a year for each student.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has set aside $170,000-a-year for the next three years to provide technical assistance for similar programs in Albuquerque, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Louisville, Memphis, San Diego and Seattle.
The National Alliance of Business granted an additional $100,000 for the seven-city program's first year. Los Angeles, with the support of the city school board, teacher's union and Chamber of Commerce, is pursuing its program with public and private funds.
According to Clemson University's National Dropout Prevention Center, each year more than 700,000 students drop out of public schools, at an eventual yearly cost of $77 billion in lost tax revenues, welfare, unemployment and crime costs. Los Angeles school officials have estimated dropout rates of up to 40 percent in their inner-city schools, although they acknowledge that this calculation is very rough.
Like the original Boston Compact, the anti-dropout program in Baltimore has been fashioned by local business and school leaders to provide a real incentive for graduation.
"There was not apparent reward for extra effort," said Jeff Valentine, deputy director of the Greater Baltimore Committee. "You had very good students who said, 'Why should I put out if I'm not going to get anything?' "
As is planned in Los Angeles, the Baltimore program is limited to graduates who maintained 95 percent attendance and an 80-point (C+ to B-) grade average after the program began in the fall of 1985. In last year's senior class of about 5,200 students, 471 qualified, Valentine said. Of those, 125 failed to seek help from the program's counselors but the rest were trained and guided to jobs, or in some cases college placement. The rate of success for seniors outside the program is unknown.
Valentine said he would like to see a better balance of the sexes. Last year's qualifying students were "overwhelmingly female," he said.
Organizers in different cities also disagree on the need for precise standards of attendance and academic achievement.
Darr said Boston considered, and then rejected, precise standards early in its program and decided instead simply to require a high school diploma. The compact, he said, is designed to encourage high schools to raise their own graduation requirements so that all of their graduates will be prepared to enter the workplace.
In each city, business participation has proved essential, and emphasis is being placed on teaching students how to dress and behave in the workplace. Boston began with 350 companies promising money or jobs. Now 600 companies are included.