2004 Carnegie Challenge

Lucy Hood
January 1, 2004

Now What?
You?ve dropped out of school, maybe you?ve been
pushed out, more than likely you?re black, Hispanic
and poor, maybe you?re also a single parent, or you
struggle with the English language, or you take care
of your younger siblings while both of your parents
work. Or, maybe you ended up largely in the street,
hanging out with the wrong crowd.
Whatever the reason, you started falling behind in
school, skipping classes, maybe causing trouble, dragging
down the school?s overall performance on test
scores and attendance rates, making it look bad in the
face of more stringent accountability rules. Eventually,
you got fed up and dropped out, or the school system
decided you were too much of a burden, and they
kicked you out, or pushed you out, or nicely suggested
that you get a General Educational Development
(GED) certificate instead.
Regardless, you fell off the rolls and into a world
where you?re worth about $8 an hour, and odds are
you?ll never be worth much more than that unless you
get a high school diploma.
So now what?
It?s a question asked every day by Margaret Aylward,
program director for the ?Now What?? program at
the Marie Smith Urban Street Academy in the Bronx,
New York. It?s a job-training program for high school
dropouts that puts them in a small-school setting and
gives them a battery of computer and academic classes
in preparation for both the GED test and the workforce.
And for many, like Ediberto Sanchez, 19, it?s a
viable alternative to the New York City public schools.
Sanchez, 19, is like many high school dropouts: he
simply faded away. In middle school, he says, he was
deemed an English-as-a-Second-Language student
because of his last name and put into special classes.
?I was embarrassed and didn?t want the other kids
to know, so I didn?t go to the classes,? he explains.
In high school, he struggled with reading, and in his
freshman year at John F. Kennedy High School, he
got his girlfriend pregnant. By the 10th grade, he was
working and going to school, ?so slowly, but surely,?
he says, ?I started missing classes,? and eventually
stopped going altogether. When he went back two
years later to re-enroll, Sanchez says he was told that
between regular classes, after-school programs and
summer school, he would have to be in school 14
hours a day to make up for lost time. When he asked
about getting a GED, Sanchez says the school told
him it would be too hard. In the end, he felt that the
school didn?t offer him much help, and once again, he
walked away.
Numbers
Unfortunately, Sanchez is not alone, not by a long
shot. Hispanic, African American and American
Indian youngsters have the highest dropout rates in
the country, often hovering around the 50 percent
mark. A 2004 report compiled jointly by the Harvard
Civil Rights Project, the Urban Institute and
Advocates for Children of New York found that the
graduation rate was 50 percent for African Americans,
51 percent for American Indians and 53 percent for
Hispanics. For whites and Asian students, it was 75
percent and 77 percent respectively.1
Another study compiled by two researchers at Johns
Hopkins University came up with similar results. After
comparing the number of freshmen in each of the nation?s
high schools to the number of seniors four years
later, professors Nettie Legters and Robert Balfanz
2
found that nearly half of all African American students
and nearly 40 percent of all Latino students attend
high schools in which graduation is not the norm. 2
The problem is particularly acute in large urban areas?
among others, Chicago, Las Vegas and New
York. When ranked among the nation?s largest metropolitan
areas, New York City, for example, often finds
itself near the bottom in terms of high school completion
and near the top in terms of dropping out. According
to the Harvard Study, the city?s overall graduation
rate is 38.2 percent. Of the country?s 100 largest
cities, it came in 92nd.
At the state level, the graduation rate is 61.4 percent,
according to the Harvard study, and is slightly higher,
or 63.2 percent, according to yet another study,3 this
one compiled by Robert Warren, an assistant professor
of sociology at the University of Minnesota. Even
more optimistic numbers can be found at the National
Center for Education Statistics,4 which puts the
graduation rate at 81.6 percent, or the New York State
Department of Education, which says the dropout
rate is a mere 4.6 percent.5
It would seem to be a simple question of either having
a diploma or not, but educators, researchers and policymakers
throughout the country have long debated
the exact definition of a dropout and exactly how
dropouts should be counted. Some use enrollment
figures to reach their conclusions, while others rely on
population surveys from the U.S. Census. Some include
GED recipients in their high school completion
rates; others do not. Some account for the large influx
of immigrants into public schools, and some do not.
Some keep close tabs on transfer students; many do
not. In short, the result is a m?ange of numbers, some
showing alarmingly high dropout rates, particularly in
large, inner-city school systems, and others depicting
a much less dire situation, one in which the vast majority
of students?86.5 percent nationally6?finish
school.
Most experts do agree, however, that the number of
students graduating from high school has stagnated
in recent years, if not declined, and the number of
youngsters dropping out of school is far too high,
especially if today?s youth is going to meet the needs of
a modern-day workforce.
Chicago
A century ago, high schools were very different institutions
than what they?ve become today. The job market
simply did not demand a high school diploma,
much less a college degree, and only 1-in-10 students
stayed in school beyond the age of 14. Less than seven
percent of 17-year-olds graduated. It wasn?t until the
1920s that the concept of a high school education,
and high schools themselves, started to take root as
American institutions, and that was because first the
Industrial Revolution and later the Great Depression
squeezed teenagers out of the workforce.7
By the 1950s, a solid majority of teenagers were earning
high school diplomas, and by the 1970s, high
schools had morphed into large, sprawling campuses
offering a wide range of options for students that went
beyond reading, writing and arithmetic.8 Since then,
the standards movement has taken hold, and the new
buzz words in principals? offices and teachers? lounges
around the nation are accountability and testing. But
schools remain large, impersonal structures where
teachers frequently say they juggle up to 150 students
a day and counselors often cater to more than 400
students each.
3
Over time, the trend has been to consolidate, to close
down smaller schools and put an ever-increasing number
of students in fewer, but larger buildings. During
the latter half of the last century, the percentage of secondary
schools with more than 1,000 students went
from 7 to 25 percent, and the population grew 70
percent, while the number of public schools declined
by 69 percent.9
Since the mid 1990s, however, large-scale schools have
come under attack for failing to meet the needs of an
increasingly diverse student body at a time when the
marketplace is demanding that more and more employees
not only have a high school diploma, but a college
degree, at a time when being an auto mechanic requires
an understanding of complex computer systems, and
being an electrician requires a higher level of math and
problem solving skills than it did 20 years ago.
?The large, anonymous high schools don?t work for
the most vulnerable kids,? says Constancia Warren,
senior program officer and director of Carnegie Corporation
of New York?s Urban High School Initiatives.
?They may work for kids who can learn even if you
lock them in the closet, kids for whom school is easy,
who know they want to go to college. They can put
up with boredom, and they can put up with teachers
who don?t know them.? But many kids can?t or won?t,
and they drop out.
Hence, Legters and Balfanz call large, comprehensive
high schools ?dropout factories.? The duo write in
their report that reforming high schools should be an
urgent national priority. Otherwise, the outlook for
many youngsters is bleak and the all-American high
school will only contribute to ?a growing number of
dispossessed young adults who are neither employed
nor in school.?10
The premium placed on a high school diploma has
evolved over time and for many reasons. Technology
has been the driving force, but a pivotal moment came
in 1944 with approval of the GI Bill, which made a
college degree accessible to millions of American servicemen,
while diminishing the value of a high school
diploma.11 In more recent years, labor unions have lost
much of their influence and the minimum wage?
measured in constant dollars?has dropped, leading
to lower wages in general for less educated workers.
Today, someone with a high school diploma will earn
on average $25,900 a year, compared to $18,900
for a dropout. The difference in lifetime earnings is
$200,000, and the gap widens to $500,000 for someone
who spent some time in college and to $800,000
for someone with a bachelor?s degree, who will make
an average of $45,500 a year.12 In short, dropouts will
more than likely make little more than minimum
wage their entire lives, while those with a diploma
and/or a few years of college will fare slightly better,
and those with a college degree will not only earn
substantially more in their lifetime, but will also be less
affected by the whims of the labor market.
Dropping out, experts say, is simply a disastrous decision.
Dropouts are among the first to lose their jobs
during an economic downturn, and during economic
prosperity, they?re still destined for the low end of the
wage scale. In addition, they are more likely to end up
on welfare, to be arrested and go to jail. As Constancia
Warren declares, ?If we lose them now [in high
school], we impose a terrible burden on their lives.?
In a gang-ridden neighborhood on the Northwest side
of Chicago, principal Lourdes Lugo works diligently
to spare at-risk youngsters the fate of a dropout?s existence.
To do so, she reaches back to the days of onehs_
4
room schoolhouses that helped to cultivate a sense of
community among the largely agrarian population
they served. It?s that sense of belonging that Lugo tries
to recreate at the Pedro Albizu Campos High School,
located on a stretch of Division Street bordered by
large, artistic renditions of the Puerto Rican flag. The
school shares a building with two other community
organizations, dance classes are held at a dance studio
next door and music classes are held in a room behind
the barber shop less than a block away. ?You keep going
down the doors,? Lugo notes, ?and you find everyone
is involved.?
The school had 72 students in the 2003-2004 school
year, 115 are enrolled for 2004-2005, and typically has
a waiting list of more than 100. It also has a success
rate of at least 95 percent for most students, and Lugo
says that if she gets them as freshman, there?s a 98 percent
chance they will graduate.
DeShawn Samuels, 18, started his junior year at Pedro
Albizu in the fall of 2004. He came to the school after
he was expelled from Wells Community Academy
High School, where he struggled academically, got
into fights and skipped class. ?When they kicked me
out,? he says, ?they gave me a list of schools, and my
mom had heard of this one.? Samuels says he?s much
happier now than he was at Wells, one of Chicago?s
large comprehensive high schools with an enrollment
of over 1,000 students. There, he says, ?I was getting
lost in the system. But now,? he adds, ?it?s fun. It?s like
you want to do well. There?s more encouragement.?
On average, there are about 10 students in each of his
classes, and Samuels says he likes the high standards
imposed by the school, including a contract signed by
each student, in which ?you agree to follow the rules,
and they reserve the right to kick you out without
explanation?..There?s no room to play around,? he
notes, and says that?s okay with him.
Pedro Albizu is one of 16 high schools that form part
of the Alternative Schools Network. Formed in 1972,
it channels funding to a total of 48 inner city schools
and several community service organizations, and
it lobbies relentlessly on behalf of the city?s ?disconnected?
youth?those who are out of school and unemployed,
like 16-year-old Mario Perez, who says he?d
?start gang banging and getting into problems? if he
hadn?t found his way to the Pedro Albizu campus.
More than likely he would be one of the ?disconnected?
youth tracked by Andrew Sum, an economics
professor at Northeastern University. The disconnected
are those 16-to-24-year-olds who are not employed
and not in school. Their numbers, which had been on
the decline for much of the 1990s, started going back
up in 2001, and reached 15.8 percent of the young
adult population in 2003. Of the estimated 5.7 million
disconnected youngsters that year, 43 percent
were dropouts.
Also in 2003, the employment rate of those 16-to-19-
year-olds was the lowest it had been since the federal
government started keeping tabs at the end of World
War II.13 For Sum, who believes ?in the power of redemption
through work,? the numbers do not bode
well for dropout rates. If school-age youngsters work
more than 20 or 25 hours a week, it is counterproductive,
he argues, but for those who work less than that,
it tends to benefit both them and society as a whole.
Young people who don?t work, Sum says, are less likely
to see the connection between school and upward
mobility, while those who do work often discover that
flipping hamburgers, mowing lawns and painting
5
houses is not what they want to do for the rest of their
lives, so they are more likely to finish school, to find a
job after graduation and to earn more when they do
graduate. Young adult women are also less likely to
become teen mothers, and young adult men are less
likely to end up in jail, according to Sum.
New York
The process of dropping out of school typically starts
early, in the lower-level grades, where attendance rates
provide tell-tale signs of trouble in a student?s educational
career, particularly when schools fail to respond
to this indication of problems. Thereafter, educators
say, the cumulative effect of failure, disillusionment
and disengagement take their toll. ?Something happens
by the third or fourth grade, when they start to
say, ?I?m not doing so well,?? notes Tyra Randall, principal
of Bushwick Community High School (formerly
Bushwick Outreach Center) in Brooklyn. ?And by the
eighth grade,? she adds, ?they decide, ?I don?t need this
crap they?re teaching me anyway.??
By the time they reach high school, many potential
dropouts begin to look a lot like the students at Bushwick,
where the typical youngster is 18 or 19 years
old and has anywhere from 5 to 15 credits, but not
nearly the 40 needed to graduate. He or she ?could be
married, living alone, have a job, come from a single
parent household, or a double parent household,?
Randall says.
Angel Chacon, 18, lives with his parents. The youngest
of four, he simply ?started drifting away and thinking
about materialistic things,? meaning the money
he could make selling drugs. He bounced from the
High School of Art and Design in Manhattan to a
school in North Carolina and back to New York, to
Grover Cleveland High School in Queens, where he
had accumulated a mere eight credits by the age of 16.
A counselor told him to leave, he said. There was also
an arrest, at least one soul-searching conversation with
his mother and a realization that he didn?t want to be
the family dropout. He heard about Bushwick from
a neighbor, and said he was skeptical at first, thinking
that it would be like all the other schools, but he
says he?s come to realize that school personnel meant
it when they said they would be there for him. ?It?s all
been good,? he says. ?They stood up to their words.
They?re like parents.?
Teachers and administrators at the school like to use
the term ?glue.? For history teacher Brian Favors, the
glue that creates a sense of belonging and a sense of
community for the kids is the cultural piece, including
classes on the Harlem Renaissance, slavery and
civil rights. A testament to this notion, he says, can be
found in the fact that the students are considered to
be among the most at-risk in New York City public
schools, yet they?re well-behaved?and they behave,
he suggests, because they?re engaged in what they?re
learning. ?The fact that we had only one fight (last)
year blew my mind,? he declares.
For teacher and assistant principal Jennifer Ostrow,
finding the right people to be at the head of the classroom
is the single most important part of running
the school. ?I can?t recruit by offering more money,?
she explains, ?so I?m counting on the fact that smart
people want to work in places where they have creative
freedom and a horizontal hierarchical structure.?
For Randall, it?s the size. Bushwick has 335 to 340
students at any given time. It?s located in a wing of
Roland Hayes Intermediate School, or IS 291, and is
the kind of place students go to when they?re forced
to leave their neighborhood schools?the large, imhs_
6
personal institutions where students often say they feel
that teachers don?t care if they come to class or not.
?If you can show me a 19- or 20-year-old in a regular,
traditional high school, I?d be surprised,? Randall said.
?By 17 or 18, and with only a few credits? they are
encouraged to look at other programs. The guess is
that the student is going to drop out.?
Educators say that this is not a new phenomenon.
For years, administrators have nudged troublesome
and low-achieving students out the door, but many
fear that in recent years, the nudge has become more
of a shove, and students are now being pushed out of
school at alarming rates.
Critics attribute much of the ?pushout? problem to
the twin faces of accountability and testing, which
have been put in place with increasing frequency since
proval of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001. The
legislation requires that states measure the academic
success of subgroups?including the poor and racial
and ethnic minorities?and that they show annual
improvement in their test scores. To that end, it encourages
school systems to cater to all students, not
just a few.
The same law also requires states to measure dropout
rates?another noble goal. But what has happened in
some cases is that schools?buckling under the pressure
to show positive results?have either fudged the
data or pushed unsuccessful students out the door, encouraging
them to opt for a work program or a GED.
In tandem with the federal law, many states have implemented
graduation tests requiring students to pass
a standardized exam before walking across the stage to
get their diploma, and that, some argue, has become
an additional deterrent for those already on a precarious
path to graduation. ?Kids who are doing very,
very well are not going to even notice these tests,? says
the University of Minnesota?s Robert Warren. ?They
are an obstacle to kids at the other end. It?s those kids
right on the margin?the C students?who will be
pushed from graduating to not graduating.?
Warren studied high school completion rates for each
state from 1973 to 2000 and found a correlation between
dropout rates and exit tests. ?We find that high
school exit examinations?particularly ?more difficult?
examinations that have recently been implemented
in some states?are associated with lower high school
completion rates and higher rates of GED test taking.?
14 The rate at which 16-to-19-year-olds take the
GED is statistically higher in states with high school
exit exams, the report said.
At the national level, teenagers accounted for nearly
49 percent of those who earned a GED certificate in
2002, up from 33 percent in 1992.15 In raw numbers,
close to 160,000 teenagers received a GED in 2002
instead of a high school diploma.16 But a GED still
lags behind a high school diploma in the educational
pecking order, and those with a GED, unless they go
on to college, will face roughly the same economic
prospects as a dropout.
New York City, according to the 2004 Harvard study,
?provides probably the clearest anecdotes of test-driven
accountability gone awry.?17 And that, in large part, is
the result of the work done by Advocates for Children
of New York (AFC). In a 2002 report, Pushing Out
At-Risk Students: An Analysis of High School Discharge
Figures, AFC documented the number of students
?discharged? during the three school years spanning the
fall of 1998 through the spring of 2001. There were
the mid-1980s and became national policy with ap7
160,000 students who left the school system prior to
graduation, the report said, ostensibly to enroll in another
educational program, often a GED program. And
in several schools, the number of discharged students
exceeded the number of graduates. ?What is alarming,?
AFC concluded, ?is that discharge rates may be used to
mask potentially higher dropout statistics.?18
Advocates also brought lawsuits against the administrators
of three New York City high schools?Franklin
K. Lane, Martin Luther King and Bushwick High
School*?as well as Chancellor Joel Klein for illegally
pushing students out of school. There was 17-year-old
Gabriel Ruiz, a repeat 9th grader who was asked to leave
Franklin K. Lane and get a GED. When he and his
mother insisted he stay and get a regular diploma, school
officials said the state could not waste any more money
on his education. After AFC filed a lawsuit on his behalf,
the school agreed to take him back, but by then he had
missed more than four months of school. And he is but
one of 27 plaintiffs who have similar stories.
The litigation, which began in March 2003, came to
an end in June 2004 when an agreement was reached
between the Bushwick students and the school system.
An earlier settlement had been reached with the
Franklin K. Lane students, and the Martin Luther
King case was dismissed when the school was disestablished
and completely reconfigured. In the settlements,
however, the city?s Department of Education
went a long way toward assuring skeptics that it was
at least making an effort to ensure students would no
longer be forced out of school: it agreed to re-enroll
?separated? students; to provide them with ?reconnection?
services; to hold exit hearings for students being
suspended or transferred; and to disseminate information
about their rights, including the right to stay in
school through the school year in which they turn 21.
?We are very satisfied with the settlements,? says Elisa
Hyman, deputy director of AFC, ?and [we] are cautiously
optimistic that the Department will continue
to take voluntary steps to ensure that students are not
excluded from school.?
In addition to reacting directly to the ?pushout?
charges, the city?s Department of Education is also
launching a system-wide program to create small, personalized,
academically rigorous schools. Seventy are
slated to open at the start of the 2004?2005 school
year, including 60 at the secondary level and four,
known as Diploma Plus Schools, aimed exclusively at
potential dropouts. The impetus for these changes, at
least in part, is the nationwide push for higher academic
standards in the classroom. ?It?s as big a challenge as the
Industrial Revolution,? says Michele Cahill, the school
system?s senior counselor for education policy (and a
former Carnegie Corporation of New York program
officer). To address the challenge, she says, ?we need to
reinvent the kinds of institutions we have in place.?
Las Vegas
Not three miles from the towering spectacle of the
Bellagio, Caesars Palace and the other hotel casinos
comprising the Las Vegas strip, 18-year-old Andres
Altamirano sat in his old classroom at Clark High
School and looked back at how his young life would
have been changed if things had turned out differently,
if he had let gangs become the driving force in his life,
if he had not entered a special program for at-risk students,
if he had dropped out, and if he had not, in the
end, earned a high school diploma.
?I probably wouldn?t be here,? he said, visiting teachers,
showing off his infant son, and talking about his * A different school than Bushwick Community High School
8
plans to get an associates degree and become a parole
officer.
Altamirano?s family is like many of the thousands now
flocking to Las Vegas. Lured by a thriving job market,
his parents moved the family from Los Angeles to Las
Vegas six years ago. Since then, one of Altamirano?s
older brothers has finished school, and two dropped
out, contributing to one of the highest dropout rates
in the nation.
In a ranking of the country?s 100 largest school districts,
the Harvard study found that Clark County, Nevada,
had a 51.9 percent completion rate, which put
it in 67th place. The same can be said for the state of
Nevada as a whole. The Harvard study found Nevada?s
38 percent graduation rate for Hispanics was the lowest
in the nation, the African-American graduation rate of
41 percent was the second lowest, and white students
had the third lowest at 62 percent. Overall, the state?s
students came in at 49th with a graduation rate of 54.7
percent.19 Another measure, one kept by the National
Center for Education Statistics, gave Nevada a much
higher completion rate of 73.5 percent, but it still came
in fourth from the bottom.20
?If we wanted to reduce the dropout rate, we could do
it tomorrow,? says Carlos Garcia, superintendent of
the Clark County Public Schools, ?if, as a community,
we commit to not hiring anyone unless they have a
high school diploma.? He loses many students to the
lure of low-skilled, high-wage jobs in the gaming industry.
?Kids are parking cars on the strip and earning
anywhere from $40,000 to $80, 000,? he explains.
?That?s unique to Las Vegas.?
Garcia knows, however, that his magic-wand solution
will never take place and parking cars at the
Bellagio will never require a high school diploma, so
he?s implementing a wide range of programs aimed at
raising academic standards and keeping kids in school
while, at the same time, he grapples with record-setting
growth. The academic changes include plans to
provide full-day kindergarten district wide; an expanthe
district?s graduation requirements; broader use of
block scheduling; giving the PSAT to all 10th graders;
and helping teachers learn how to teach limited-English-
proficient students.
More than 12,000 new students show up at the
district?s doorstep each year. As a consequence, it
hires 2,000 new teachers annually, and, on average,
it?s opened 8 new schools each year since 1993. This
year, it will open 13 new schools and one replacement
school; next year, it will open the first of its new mall
high schools. The new high school will be modeled?
literally?after a shopping mall, with the same kind of
corridors and ambient light. Each is expected to house
2,700 to 3,000 students, and will be divided into four
separate schools within the building, each with its own
principal, administration, teaching staff and approximately
700 students.
It?s part of the district?s effort to create smaller learning
environments at the secondary level. Several of the
middle schools and a few of the already existing high
schools have, in recent years, undertaken a hodgepodge
of small-school efforts. One of those is Clark
High School, which has been a model for change
since former principal Wayne Tanaka turned the once-
His approach was multifaceted. He rallied community
support, launched a successful fundraising
campaign, and led an effort to rid both the campus
sion of Advanced Placement classes; adding algebra to
troubled campus around in the mid-1990s.
9
and surrounding neighborhoods of crime and gang
activity. He also created four small schools within a
school?three magnet programs organized around
themes (science and technology, finance and teaching)
and a fourth dedicated exclusively to helping wouldbe
dropouts stay in school. The program is known as
Teaching Reading Across the Curriculum for Success,
or TRACS.
Located in a wing of Clark?s sprawling campus, the
TRACS program is small. It started with 60 students
in the 1999-2000 school year, and last year, it had
110?all of them almost certain to drop out. ?Every
kid in that [first] class had failed almost all their classes,?
notes English teacher Joanne Ho. ?Realizing that,
we said, ?Oh my gosh, what did we get ourselves into???
For Ho, it?s turned out to be, as she says, ?the shot in
the arm for teaching I needed.? The smaller size has allowed
her, along with her three colleagues, to work as
a team, to coordinate what they teach, how they teach
and how they deal with each individual student. ?The
program enabled me to do what I?d always dreamed
of doing as a teacher,? Ho says. ?Working with all the
team teachers has been a blessing, because you don?t
have to do it alone anymore.?
Catering to a relative handful of students in the 9th
and 10th grades, the TRACS teachers have created a
devoted following of students. There?s Altamirano,
of course, who credits his teachers for giving him the
encouragement he needed. ?They?re the ones who told
me I could do it,? he says. There?s also Kristi Harper,
17, who will be a senior when school starts this fall.
?I didn?t think I was going to finish high school,? says
Harper. She?s no longer in the TRACS program, but
she says, of her TRACS teacher, ?I come back to Ms.
Wagner for anything I need.?
And there?s Jose Godinez, who made arrangements
to stay at Clark, even though his family moved to another
part of town, which would have put him in another
school. Though he will be a senior this year and
no longer eligible for the TRACS program, Godinez,
like Harper, still relies on a TRACS teacher?the same
Ms. Wagner?to be the counselor, the mentor, the
one caring adult who often makes the difference for
at-risk students. ?Ms. Wagner is the best teacher I?ve
ever had,? Godinez said. ?She?s like my mom.?
Luanne Wagner has been teaching for six years. She
and Ho, who has been teaching for fourteen years,
have worked in tandem for the past five years, since
TRACS was created. They were there at the beginning
when, as a group, they decided the students needed
a strong dose of teamwork and character education.
In response, they opted to adopt the five core
values?caring, respect, responsibility, trust and family?
promoted by Community of Caring, a K-12 ,
whole-school, comprehensive education program with
a particular focus on disabilities, founded by Eunice
Kennedy Shriver in 1982. ?The students were all loners,?
Ho says, ?but we told them, ?We?re not leaving
anyone behind, so you can either help each other or
be very, very patient.??
Ho, Wagner and the other two teachers who created
the TRACS program also decided the students needed
food, so they stocked up on healthy snacks. Since
Wagner had read that coffee helps the learning process,
they provided steaming cups of Starbucks. ?They
[the students] had food, they had coffee and character
education,? Wagner says, ?and it seemed to work.?
In addition, TRACS teachers incorporated a six-week
series of classes in conflict resolution, as well as lesson
plans in tolerance and nonviolent forms of protest
10
featuring Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Mahatma
Ghandi and others. And, for a group of students
who had been told repeatedly that they were going
to fail, they were given constant infusions of positive
reinforcement, which included an annual awards ceremony,
in which everyone received recognition of some
kind. The result has been a dramatic improvement
in the behavior of a characteristically unruly group of
young people. ?We never have behavior problems,?
Ho says. ?If we do, we resolve it, and we?re shaking
hands before it?s done, rather than writing a note and
sending them down the hall.?
The results so far show that the TRACS program has
indeed made a dent in preventing students from dropping
out. To date, about half the students who begin
the program as freshmen have ended up with a high
school diploma.
In support of their efforts, the TRACS teachers have
had the backing of school administrators, as well as
financial reinforcement from a local businesswoman
who gave more than $3,000 a year for four years. In
addition, the students hold fundraisers, including one
last year where they made $800 selling roses made
from candy kisses for Valentine?s Day. And Ho, for example,
is not above asking local grocery store and fast
food chains for a contribution: coupons from Chili?s
and Wendy?s, a few dozen donuts from Krispy Kreme.
TRACS closely adheres to many of the practices required
to promote a successful learning experience for
at-risk kids. It provides students with a personalized
learning environment and a caring adult who will see
them not only through the 9th and 10th grades, but
will also be there for them in the 11th and 12th grades.
(Although the program is only formally offered to 9th
and 10th graders, former TRACS students grades can
still consult their TRACS teachers later on.) It infuses
all classes?math, science and social studies?with a
large dose of instruction in reading and writing; and
the teachers work as a team to incorporate lessons,
such as character education, and to develop extracurricular
and motivational activities, like the awards
ceremony.
These are key components of the small-school reform
effort that began in the mid-1990s and continues
today with district-wide efforts to overhaul failing
schools in places like New York, Chicago, Houston,
Boston and San Diego. Several reform efforts are
funded in part by Carnegie Corporation of New York
and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation through
initiatives like Schools for a New Society. Launched by
the Corporation in 2001, with participation by the
Gates Foundation, it provides $60 million to seven
urban school systems to foster large-scale, district-wide
change at the high school level. And a separate program,
New Century High Schools, provides more than
$50 million to redesign low performing, large-scale
schools in New York City and create a variety of smallschool
settings for middle- and high-school students.
But small school advocates caution that size alone is
not enough to constitute reform. Small schools are only
effective, they say, when coupled with a coordinated
effort to improve instruction, teacher quality, teacher
support, professional development and personalization.
?I?ve seen small schools that are not great schools,? says
Constancia Warren. ?Small schools improve the conditions
for teaching and learning. They don?t in and of
themselves improve teaching and learning.?
And the kind of concerted effort needed to do just
that, to improve teaching and learning nationwide
and bring America?s high schools into the 21st century,
11
has not taken place, according to Legters and Balfanz:
?School systems?lacking the knowledge, the resources
and often sufficient resolve?have implemented
some, but not all, of the necessary reforms, and consequently
they?ve fallen short of their goals to bolster
both academic performance and graduation rates.?21
The outlook, they warn, is grim: ?Until the nation?s
dropout factories are reformed or replaced, the
promise of the American High School as an engine
of economic growth and social transformation will
not be met. Furthermore,? the authors caution, since
and minority students, they ?not only deny many the
promise of equal educational opportunity; they act as
a wedge driving the country further apart.?22
Endnotes
1 Losing Our Future: How Minority Youth Are Being Left Behind By The Graduation Rate Crisis, a joint release by the Civil Rights
Project at Harvard University, the Urban Institute, Advocates for Children of New York and Results for America, a project of
the Civil Society Institute, 2004.
2Locating the Dropout Crisis, Robert Balfanz and Nettie Legters, The Center for Social Organization of Schools, Johns Hopkins
University, June 2004.
3 High School Exit Examinations and State-Level Completion and GED Rates, 1973-2000, John Robert Warren, Krista N. Jenkins
and Rachael B. Kulick, Department of Sociology, University of Minnesota, May 2004.
4 Dropout Rates in the United States: 2000, National Center for Education Statistics, November 2001.
5 2002-2003 New York State School Report Card, New York State Department of Education, 2004.
6 Dropout Rates in the United States: 2000.
7 Lessons of a Century, staff of Education Week, 2000.
8 ibid.
9 Dollars & Sense, the Cost Effectiveness of Small Schools, Knowledge Works Foundation, 2002.
10 Locating the Dropout Crisis.
11 Lessons of a Century.
12 The Big Payoff: Educational Attainment and Synthetic Estimates of Work-Life Earnings, U.S. Census Bureau, July 2002.
13 Losing Ground with No Job Recovery in Sight: The Growing Labor Market Plight of Teens and Young Adults in Illinois, Andrew
Sum and Ishwar Khatiwada, Center for Labor Market Studies, Northeastern University, March 2004.
14 High School Exit Examinations and State-Level Completion and GED Rates, 1973-2000.
15 ?More Youths Opt for G.E.D. Tests, Skirting the Hurdle of High School,? Karen W. Arenson, The New York Times, May 15,
2004.
16 Who Passed the GED Tests? 2002 Statistical Report, General Educational Development Testing Service of the American Council
on Education, 2004.
17 Losing Our Future.
18 Pushing Out At-Risk Students: An Analysis of High School Discharge Figures, Public Advocates for the City of New York and Advocates
for Children of New York, November 21, 2002.
19 Losing Our Future.
20 Dropout Rates in the United States: 2000.
21 Locating the Dropout Crisis.
22 ibid.
most of these schools cater to large numbers of poor
12
Notes
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