The Pushouts

For decades we’ve heard about America’s “dropout crisis.” Meet Dr. Victor Rios, a high school “dropout” and former gang member turned bestselling author and professor. Rios argues for a shift in the way we understand the problem. Filmed over more than 25 years, The Pushouts weaves Rios’s inspiring pushout-to-professor narrative with stories from YO!Watts, a youth center serving 16-24 year olds who are out of school and out of work. 

The Pushouts trades narratives of tragedy and victimization for true stories of resilience, highlighting the vast potential of young people to thrive when they have access to meaningful opportunities and connections to adults who can offer support. Go to to check out upcoming screenings or to order a DVD for educational distribution.

Core themes of the film include:

  • School-to-prison pipeline
  • Asset-vs-deficit frameworks and why they matter (“pushout,” “at-promise,” etc.)
  • Generational poverty and entrenched discrimination
  • Young people balancing work and school
  • Homelessness and housing instability in the pushout picture
  • Cascading effects of mentorship
  • Trauma-informed care
  • Whole-child education and the importance of culturally relatable educators

Relevant Facts:

  • More than 1.2 million students “drop” out of school in the U.S. every year. Often presented in isolation, this figure needs context if it is to be used in building meaningful, lasting solutions to the problem. The statistics below can be included with messaging alongside the short film.
  • Every 41 seconds, a child is born into poverty in the U.S. More than two thirds of poor children are children of color.
  • In 2017, only 62% of children who spent half their childhoods in poverty graduated from high school by age 20, compared with 90% of children who never experienced poverty.
  • The gap in the U.S. between richer and poorer students in access to qualified educators is one of the largest in the world.
  • In 2016-2017, nearly 1.4 million homeless children were enrolled in public schools.
  • Many low-income students have to balance school with work in order to keep their families financially afloat. A 2015 study by the Urban Institute reports that, on average, working youth contribute almost 22 percent to the family budget, while about 10 percent of these teens contribute more than half.
  • 1 in 3 young people in the U.S. will grow up without a mentor. Studies show that young adults who face an opportunity gap but have a mentor are 55% more likely to be enrolled in college than those who did not have a mentor.

Watch All the Shorts on PBS / Voces

More than half of Black and Latino children grow up in poverty. 1/3 will not graduate high school. According to Martin Flores, director of YO!Watts, a program for 16-24 year-olds who did not finish high school, to solve the “dropout crisis” is to shift our understanding of the problem. Flores’ students are among the 1.2 million young people who are pushed out of school each year. 

Framing questions:

  • Did you have a mentor while in high school? If so, how do you think that experience changed you? If not, what kind of obstacles stood in the way of finding a mentor?
  • What kind of impact did the explanation of the difference between “dropout” and “pushout” have on your understanding of the issue?
  • What would you say to Martin Flores when he asks how the system has failed these young people?
  • What kind of economic pressures were the students facing? Do you think these pressures contribute to the “pushout” phenomenon? What do you think could relieve those pressures?
  • Victor says education is a way up and a way out. Do you agree? What might be some limits to that perspective?

Kadhir Rajagopal was a former university student of Victor Rios’s. Kadhir’s family was of the “untouchable” caste in southern India before they moved to the south side of Chicago where Kadhir was raised. He uses algebra, Tupac and his father to discuss the relationship between education and rebellion and inspire his students to build faith in themselves. 

Framing questions:

  • What do you think about the relationship between education and rebellion? Does education generally make people more or less rebellious? If you think it is more, rebellious against what? For what?
  • Why do you think Rajagopal’s father told him to be a “rebel” and not a “victim”?
  • Do you relate to the way Rajagopal teaches algebra? Why or why not?
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