Resources, programs, and factors such as class size indeed matter, but so do the ways we use these resources, who gets access to these programs, what actually happens in small or large classes. That is, we can add money to the pot, create new programs, and reduce class size, but what happens in these structures is also critically important, which is why we need to take a microscopic look into our institutions to find out who our schools are working for, who they are not working for, what we can learn, and what we can celebrate.

— Louie F. Rodríguez, The Time Is Now

In The Time Is Now: Understanding and Responding to the Black and Latina/o Dropout Crisis in the U.S., Louie F. Rodríguez situates the conditions of the alarming dropout rate in American high schools. While most schools are cognizant of the alarming statistics—about 50 percent of high school students of color are not graduating (p. 6)—Rodríguez argues that teachers and administrators tend to avoid discussing this situation candidly due to fears of personal or internal blame. Drawing from more than ten years of experience researching the topic of dropouts, and centering his analysis on the importance of school culture, Rodríguez presents the Paradigm to Understand and Examine Dropout and Engagement in Society (PUEDES) approach, an analytical framework for understanding and responding to the dropout crisis. With the PUEDES framework, Rodríguez offers a unique intellectual contribution: a comprehensible theoretical model that not only helps explain the disparities in dropout trends but also provides a set of action steps and recommendations for researchers and practitioners.

Rodríguez begins the book by explaining that the dropout crisis tends to be situated in poor communities of color, primarily Black and Latina/o, where a lack of access to scarce resources marginalizes students. Throughout the book he makes the case that since the dropout crisis is a “concentrated reality,” responses to it should therefore be targeted and deliberate, socially and economically. Thus, Rodríguez strategically organizes the book to build on this claim. In the first section, he focuses on contextualizing the dropout crisis. Next, he presents the theoretical foundations of PUEDES. In the third and final section, he uses data from three different research projects to inform everyday school practices. In these projects, Rodríguez used the PUEDES framework to conduct participatory action research with high school students based in Boston, Miami, and California’s Inland Empire to ask, “Why do students drop out?” With these findings, he draws attention to strategic ways the national dropout crisis can be addressed, which he has organized into a detailed ten-point plan and a theory of action.

A great deal of existing research frames student dropout as either a result of the structural conditions of the school (such as poverty) or the result, or consequence, of student “(in)action” (p. 15). Both explanations, according to Rodríguez, suggest that the crisis arises from individualized situations, where blame is concentrated in a single entity. He points to the importance of considering the role of school culture, “the values, beliefs, and processes that characterize institutional life,” and highlights the roles that race, class, gender, power, knowledge, and language play in shaping schooling experiences for students of color (p. 13). With the PUEDES framework, Rodríguez draws from the structure-culture-agency paradigm, based on the idea that social action is a result of the interaction between social structures and agencies; however, he moves beyond isolated conceptions of structure, culture, and agency (p. 19) by considering the interactive nature of the different dynamics that may be occurring within school systems and their environments and how these shape students’ experiences.

Rooted in the intertwined relationship of structure, culture, and agency, the PUEDES framework postulates that student engagement and achievement can improve by engaging students as intellectuals (where they are given the opportunity to share their knowledge); listening and learning from the experiences of marginalized students, not just college-tracked individuals; and investing in meaningful relationships. In addition, the framework calls for “cross-institutional collaboration, shared accountability, and focus on process and outcome” from the different stakeholders involved, highlighting the importance of involving different community members, not just schools, in the process (p. 33). Consequently, the importance of student voice and collaboration are apparent in Rodríguez’s research sites. For example, the high school student researchers who asked their peers about their experiences and level of satisfaction with their schools and education found that students wanted their schools to (1) encourage a culture of dialogue and relationships; (2) create spaces for student voices, establishing relevant and exciting curriculum; (3) engage alumni and community members; and (4) recognize and celebrate excellence. These, according to Rodríguez, are some of the critical elements of school life needed to foster student success and shape school culture. It is not surprising, then, that the calls to action and the ten-point plan he presents in the final section of the book were designed with these elements in mind.

The power of The Time Is Now lies in Rodríguez’s ability to complicate the dominant narrative of individual blame by engaging with both macro- and micro-level perspectives on the dropout crisis in American high schools. Yet, it is this same feature—the book’s broad scope—that presents some challenges. Since the book centers itself on the PUEDES framework and not on the research sites themselves, the reader is left wanting to hear more from the students Rodríguez worked with. The vignette of Ramon, a bright student who becomes disillusioned with school and drops out, feels almost like a tease, a sneak peak into the complicated experiences of students, as it is the only extended example in the book. Nevertheless, this does not detract from the utility of the book, as the format—especially the last third of the book and the detailed action steps it includes—has the potential to inform practice in very succinct ways. Further, the book remains loyal to the values of the author. Not only does Rodríguez unapologetically challenge readers to rethink the dropout crisis, but he suggests mechanisms for beginning meaningful change. The directness and personal investment Rodríguez presents in his book are attributes essential to rethinking the possibilities of schools, especially for students of color at risk of dropping out.