Diplomas Count - Issue 34, 2013 - (Page 16)

EDUCATION WEEK JUNE 6, 2013 Diplomas Count > www.edweek.org/ n 16 | A Chicago Charter Network Stanches the Flow of Dropouts The 22 Youth Connection schools specialize in second chances L Chicago ast June, Chicago public schools officials announced that the district was on the cusp of setting a new record for graduation: Slightly more than 60 percent of students would earn a diploma in 2012. Chicago’s record high is still roughly 20 percentage points below the national four-year graduation rate, but some of the progress the city has made in driving down the dropout rate over the past five to 10 years is because of a network of charter schools around the city that for more than 15 years has provided small, alternative programs that specialize in serving recovered dropouts or students at high risk of becoming dropouts. The Youth Connection Charter School network—with 22 schools located in neighborhoods mostly on the city’s impoverished south and west sides—enrolls some 4,000 students and expects about 1,000 of them to graduate with a regular high school diploma this month. Of last year’s 1,366 graduates, 78 percent were accepted into a postsecondary institution, mainly community colleges, according to Youth Connection officials, whose estimates are based on graduates’ reports and verified enrollments through the National Student Clearinghouse. The average student at a Youth Connection campus is 18. Nearly all of them are behind in credits, and many arrive with high school transcripts full of D’s and F’s. At the beginning of the 2012-13 school year, three-quarters of the network’s entering students were reading at a 6th grade level or lower, says Sheila Venson, Youth Connection’s executive director. In addition to their twin goals of getting most students to earn a diploma and to enroll in a postsecondary institution, the schools aim to boost literacy levels for every student to at least the 10th grade, says Venson. Most of the schools are partnered with local higher education entities that provide students with opportunities to earn college credits as they finish high school. “We are doing the heavy lift,” she says. “We are doing the job that wasn’t done in K-12 for these young people. Credit recovery cannot be the only education program we offer our students.” ‘Drop in the Bucket’ Youth Connection’s networkwide one-year graduation rate for 2011-12 was 84.4 percent, according to data from Chicago public schools officials. In a speech last December at a public forum held to spotlight the city’s dropout problem, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, the chief executive officer of the 405,000-student Chicago district, credited Youth Connection for reducing the system’s dropout rate by 7 percent over the past decade. Part of that decrease, Venson explains, is because many students who enroll at a Youth Connection campus are counted as transfers from the city high schools that they leave. Even so, the scale of the dropout problem in Chicago remains daunting. Despite the school system’s slow and steady progress in keeping more students, thousands still drop out or teeter on the edge of doing so every year. “The seats [Youth Connection] can offer, even with serving more than 4,000 students, are a drop in the bucket for what the need is,” says Elaine Allensworth, the interim executive director of the Chicago Consortium on School Research, based at the University of Chicago. Across the country, some 700 charter schools are identified as “alternative” and serving former dropouts, those at risk for dropping out, expelled students, and other high-risk students, according to 2012 surveys from two national charter school groups. That represents about 11.7 percent of all charter schools, says Nina Rees, the president and chief executive officer of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Despite interest among charter operators in serving a greater swath of the recovered dropout and at-risk population, Rees says growth has been slow in part because the schools would “be under the same scrutiny as regular schools for meeting state standards and graduation rates.” “If there isn’t a different accountability system for these schools,” she says, “they aren’t going to look good.” Deep Roots in Community The Youth Connection programs have a long history in the city. Many of the schools have deep roots in the communities they serve and tend to draw students who dropped out of high schools nearby or in surrounding neighborhoods. The Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos Puerto Rican High School, for example, opened in 1972 in Chicago’s heavily Puerto Rican neighborhood of Humboldt Park. The cca Academy, which serves students on the West Side of Chicago in the North Lawndale neighborhood, opened in 1978. Before the schools were organized under a single charter in 1997, many were programs run by neighborhood-based community organizations that had individual contracts with the Chicago school system to provide an “alternative” setting for students who had already dropped out or who were not succeeding in the traditional high schools. A change in state law in the mid1990s that would have taken millions of dollars in state aid from Chicago to pay for students enrolled in the community-based alternative programs prompted district leaders to organize them under a single, district-held charter as a way to protect the funding. In the years since, the schools have mostly kept their distinctive instructional approaches and practices for re-engaging students, as well as the individual governing boards responsible for hiring principals. But within the charter structure, the Youth Connection schools operate under common administrative policies and procedures for enrollment, financial reporting, setting academic and other benchmarks, providing special education services, and setting minimum graduation requirements. Downtown Setting Innovations High School, which had been a fixture in the Bronzeville community on the city’s South Side for years, moved to a downtown highrise on State Street three years ago. “We’d been in a gang neighborhood with high unemployment, and we felt strongly that children in an alternative environment need to feel safe coming to school, and they needed to see lots of different kinds of working professional adults,” says LaShaun Jackson, a co-founder and the executive director of Innovations High. The move to downtown also put Innovations’ students closer to Harold Washington College, a community college where they take courses for college credit. Its graduation requirements are rigorous: Students must complete a “senior portfolio” that includes applying to four- or two-year colleges and snagging an acceptance to at least one. None of the schools enrolls more than 200 students. All offer online courses for credit recovery and use the same hybrid program that puts a teacher in the classroom with students as they complete their content online. But each school has its own engagement strategies, academic focus areas, and array of support services designed to meet the needs of students in their communities. At cca Academy, Principal Myra Sampson and her faculty have adopted urban agriculture and ecology, as well as aquaponics, as a key piece of their strategy to get students engaged not only in science learning but also in mathematics and other subjects. Aquaponics—which combines the raising of fish with the growing of food in a symbiotic relationship—has captivated numerous cca students, Sampson says. A few years ago, with the help of a local foundation, students began raising perch and tilapia in large tanks, along with a variety of vegetable plants and herbs that are nourished by the nutrients from the water in the fish tanks. http://www.edweek.org/

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Diplomas Count - Issue 34, 2013

Diplomas Count - Issue 34, 2013
Contents
A ‘Neglected’ Population Goes Back to School
Age Can Determine Access To Free Education, Diploma Pathways
State Statistics and Strategies
High School Equivalency Test Gets a Makeover
Reasons to Stay: Tailored Interventions
Online Providers Find a Market In Returning Dropouts
Second-Chance Challenge: Keeping Students in School
A Chicago Charter Network Stanches The Flow of Dropouts
Sound-Engineering Class Hooks Reluctant Student
Teenage Father Makes Journey From Dropout to Top Student
Honor Student Disconnects, Re-engages at CCA
Graduation Rate Approaching Milestone
TABLE: Graduation in the United States
DATA: Detailed Analytic Portrait
TABLE: Graduation Policies For the Class of 2013
Sources and Notes

Diplomas Count - Issue 34, 2013

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