4 Ideas that Inform and Drive Our Work

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George Knowles, Communications Associate

For over 20 years, AYPF’s mission has been to ensure that all young people are well equipped to be successful. We’ve placed a strong emphasis on highlighting policies and practices that prepare youth for earning a sustaining wage, being civically and socially engaged, and becoming lifelong learners.

Our focus remains committed to at-risk, vulnerable, and disconnected youth, and AYPF has made a deliberate effort to promote strategies, policies, and practices that address the needs of “the Forgotten Half.” Young people of color, youth who live in low-income communities, youth in foster care, recent immigrants, youth with mental health challenges, and youth involved with the justice system often face formidable barriers and are in need of access to opportunities to achieve success in school, work, and life. We help decision makers learn about programs, policies, and strategies that help these youth succeed.

As our knowledge and thinking has evolved over the past two decades, we are now organizing our work around four guiding principles that, we believe, will be most effective in improving youth outcomes:

Personalized, Student-Centered Learning

Students often learn in many different ways, and at different paces and learning environments. Instructional methods that are effective for one student may not necessarily work for another, so learning experiences must be customized to address the wide range of social, emotional, and academic needs of individual students, building upon their interests. Low-income and vulnerable youth often are in most need of personalized learning opportunities as they face additional challenges, including a range of social and emotional stressors.

AYPF will continue to showcase schools and programs that work collaboratively to create individualized, student-centered learning experiences that foster long-term youth success and engage students in taking ownership of their learning. We will be facilitating conversations around the role of school and community-based partners, opportunities for youth voice, and support for vulnerable populations in innovative settings that acknowledge and address individual learning needs

Advancement Upon Mastery

Too often, students are advanced through K-12 education without demonstrating that they’ve mastered the required academic content. To be truly college and career-ready, AYPF believes that academic advancement should depend on a demonstrated mastery of subject matter, and not by an arbitrary calendar date.

Strategies such as competency-based education (CBE) and dual enrollment allow for students to progress at their own pace, depending on their needs and circumstances. Both approaches also allow for increased transparency for students, teachers, and parents, as well as the chance to adjust curricula and pacing as needed. As momentum builds around these approaches, AYPF will continue to investigate how assessment, accountability, and professional development must evolve in a competency learning system.

Multiple Pathways and Options to Success

Today’s students and youth come from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds with a wide range of skills, learning styles, and interests. Students need opportunities and alternative paths to success that reflect this diversity. Young people’s needs can differ dramatically, depending on a range of circumstances.

Youth in foster care, youth in juvenile justice, or youth who are overage or behind in high school credits will likely have significantly different needs and goals, and will need a range of different options and pathways to help them succeed.

AYPF will continue to document pathways to postsecondary success and the workforce for vulnerable youth and drive the national dialogue by highlighting opportunities for state and federal policy to allow youth, especially disconnected youth, to achieve long-term success.

Creating Collaborative Systems and Structures that Support Youth

In order to ensure that youth are healthy, educated, and productive. AYPF believes that communities must build robust, overarching support systems that include education, workforce preparation, social and child services, and health and mental health. The growing coordination of community groups, schools and colleges, in partnership with state, federal, and local governments are critical to customizing these solutions.

Important work in building the capacity for collaboration is being done across the country, and many examples of successful approaches that can inform policy exist. AYPF will continue to convene representatives from diverse sectors and outline opportunities for better coordination in policy and practice.

As young peoples’ needs change, so will AYPF’s work, but achieving success in these four broad policy areas will continue to serve as our guiding principles and inform our work. The needs of young people, and especially disconnected or vulnerable youth, are as urgent as ever. A flexible, comprehensive approach that addresses individual student needs for success is what they deserve.

George Knowles is a Communications Associate with the American Youth Policy Forum.


The American Youth Policy Forum (AYPF), a nonprofit, nonpartisan professional development organization based in Washington, DC, provides learning opportunities for policy leaders, practitioners, and researchers working on youth and education issues at the national, state, and local levels. AYPF events and publications are made possible by contributions from philanthropic foundations. For a complete list, click here.