Secondary Education

Higher Accountability for College Dropout Rates

There are a lot of metrics in place that gauge the effectiveness of P-12 schooling in the U.S. and shine a particularly bright light on public schools, particularly when they are failing students. Dropout rates are just one of the factors taken into account when these numbers are calculated and tend to weigh heavily on the schools and districts who have low percentages. The same does not seem to be true once the high school years pass though. Compared to P-12 institutions, colleges and universities seemingly get a pass when it comes to dropout rates – perhaps because in the past, higher education was considered more of a privilege and less of a right. A college dropout was simply walking away from the assumed higher quality of life that came with the degree, but still had opportunity to excel without it.

That’s not the case anymore. As of 2013, 17.5 million students were enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities.  More than ever, colleges and universities have a responsibility to not simply admit students, but ensure they are guided properly to graduation. In other words, institutions of higher education should not be able to just take their student’s money and say “good luck.” They should provide the tools necessary for students to successfully achieve a college education and anticipate the issues that could prevent that.

Authors Ben Miller and Phuong Ly discussed the issue of the U.S. colleges with the worst graduation rates in their book College Dropout Factories. Within the pages, the authors encouraged educators at all levels to acknowledge that colleges and universities should share responsibility for successful or failing graduation rates, and that the institutions with the worst rates should be shut down. Perhaps the most terrifying suggestion in the book (for colleges and universities) was that public institutions with low graduation rates would be subjected to reduced state funding.

The book was written based on findings from Washington Monthly that ranked the U.S. schools with the lowest six-year graduation rates among colleges and universities, including public ones like the University of the District of Columbia (8%), Haskell Indian Nations University (9%), Oglala Lakota College (11%), Texas Southern University (13%) and Chicago State University (13%). These stats were published in 2010 so they are not the most current available but a quick scan of the University of the District Columbia’s official page shows graduation rate numbers through the end of the 2003 – 2004 school year. The past nine years are nowhere to be found. The school boasts 51.2 percent underrepresented minorities in the study body, including 47 percent that are Black – but what good are those numbers if these students are not actually benefitting from their time in college because they receive no degree?

In the case of Chicago State University, the latest statistics show some improvement from the 2010 ones. The six-year graduation rate is up to 21 percent – but the transfer-out rate is nearly 30 percent. The school has 92 percent underrepresented minorities that attend – 86 percent who are black and 70 percent who are female – but again, what good does any of that do if these traditionally disadvantaged students are not graduating?

In all cases of college dropout factories, the P-12 institutions chalk up a victory on their end. They graduated the students and also saw them accepted into a college. What happens after that is between the students and their higher education choices.

This, to me, is a problem. The accountability for student success extends beyond the years that they are in P-12 classrooms. Graduation from high school, and acceptance into college, should never be the final goal of P-12 educators. That is not a victory. That is only halftime.

As far as the colleges and universities are concerned, higher accountability should be demanded from educators, students, parents and really any Americans that want the best economy and highest-educated population. Public institutions, in particular, should be subject to restructuring or take over if dropout rates are too high. The lack of delivery on the college degree dream at many of these schools is appalling, frankly, and has gone on long enough.

What do you think an accountability system for colleges should look like when it comes to dropout rates?



What if K-12 Education Were More Like Preschool?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful, after all, if high school students were as deeply absorbed in their ‘work’ as five-year-olds are in their play? – Deborah Meier

The other day, a colleague and I preparing for a conference workshop gave ourselves some time to ask ourselves a number of the 30,000-foot questions we rarely take the time to ask. I found myself fascinated by how rarely in our national dialogue about K-12 school reform – dominated by a myopic, nostalgic, and restrictive construct of “college readiness” entrenched by federal education policy and public education debate — we ever dare to pose critical questions about learning theory or teaching practice in college settings; just what K-12 schools are preparing children to accomplish in college; just what colleges are doing to attend to the demonstrated learning needs of their students; or exactly what relevance much of college learning brings to bear either on the developmental needs of young adults enrolled in college, their discovery of joy and purpose, or their fitness for engagement in a democratic society.

Instead, we tend to wed ourselves to sweeping assumptions about the nature and propriety of college-level academic readiness, uncritically accept the principles embedded in it, and plan backwards from that unexamined construct of ‘college readiness’ in all the grade levels that precede it. K-12 education has become as a result, in the public imagination and in many of our schools, an elaborate dress rehearsal for a show that might not, at the end of the day, be particularly well-conceived, written, directed, or produced. But who can tell for sure?

In the shadow of national anxiety about ‘college readiness’ — in which many of us spend our time assessing how well our K-12 schools prepare children for college learning by determining how much their current learning resembles it – I have long found Deborah Meier’s account of the formation of the Central Park East schools a dynamically different challenge and welcome inspiration. When I first landed on these lines from The Power of Their Ideas a few years back, for example, something changed forever in the way I think about teaching and learning:

Just as our elementary school was based on the idea of keeping the traditions of kindergarten going through the sixth grade, so for our secondary school we largely imagined our task as keeping the spirit of kindergarten going for a few more years. I do not mean this to sound condescending or belittling. I see the spirit I’m referring to as fundamental to all good education; wouldn’t it be wonderful, after all, if high school students were as deeply absorbed in their “work” as five-year-olds are in their “play”? (p. 47)

Meier concedes that “I speak here of an old-fashioned kindergarten, one that doesn’t look like first grade” (48), and from that – as well as the increasing and regrettable insistence in recent decades that kindergartens should look more like first grade — I have taken license to ask some of the same questions about preschool and the influence it could bring to bear on older students’ learning.

In the last several weeks I’ve been spending some of my time with kindergarten and 1st grade teachers at a progressive elementary school, helping them explore together how documentation practices and collaborative inquiry protocols, adapted from the Reggio preschool model, can deepen their learning, teaching, and professional collaboration. On other days, I’ve been spending time at an extraordinary Reggio-inspired preschool – observing highly skilled teachers in practice, and participating in shared inquiry and reflection after hours – to learn how such practices are implemented among younger learners still. In off hours, I find myself – as someone who has long been preoccupied by the work of Project Zero in collaboration with leaders of the Reggio Schools since I first stumbled upon Making Learning Visible — continually thinking about how elementary, middle, and high school teaching and learning could be deepened by an explicit understanding, appreciation, and extension of practices in early learning. And in my continued research, I’ve been thinking about the ways these practices represent a dramatically more authentic and effective alternative – in their acuity, their intentionality, their integrity, and their transparency – to many of the problematic notions embedded in current constructs of ‘accountability.’

All the while, I find myself remembering the way that Deborah Meier framed both a construct of early learning, the immense power it brings to bear on our conceptualization of older students’ learning, and the remarkable prospects these principles invite in K-12 schools in a time of transformative change: not only the prospect of more engaged, joyful, and purposeful learning, and not only the prospect of more inclusive, democratic, and devoted learning communities, but also the promise of deeper, richer learning and the extraordinary academic achievement that — ironically, perhaps — inevitably emerges from it. For these reasons I wanted to share an extended passage from The Power of Their Ideas to invite your reflection:

Kindergarten is the one place— maybe the last place— where teachers are expected to know children well, even if they don’t hand in their homework, finish their Friday tests, or pay attention. Kindergarten teachers know children by listening and looking. They know that learning must be personalized because kids are incorrigibly idiosyncratic… Kindergarten teachers know that helping children learn to become more self-reliant is part of their task—starting with tying shoes and going to the bathroom. Catering to children’s growing independence is a natural part of a kindergarten teacher’s classroom life.

This is, alas, the last time children are given independence, encouraged to make choices, and allowed to move about on their own steam. The older they get the less we take into account the importance of children’s own interests, and the less we cherish their capacity for engaging in imaginative play. (In fact, we worry in kindergarten if children lack such capacity, while later on we worry if they show it too much.) In kindergarten we design our rooms for real work, not just passive listening. We put things in the room that will appeal to children, grab their interests, and engage their minds and hearts. Teachers in kindergarten are editors, critics, cheerleaders, and caretakers, not just lecturers or deliverers of instruction. What Ted Sizer calls “coaching” is second nature in the kindergarten classroom.

A good school for anyone is a little like kindergarten and a little like a good post-graduate program— the two ends of the educational spectrum, at which we understand that we cannot treat any two human beings identically, but must take into account their special interests and styles even as we hold all to high and rigorous standards…. We don’t need research on this astounding proposition. (pp. 48-49)

Many of the moments that have particularly captivated me in recent weeks have emerged from intentional dialogue with teachers about the relational elements of children’s learning: purposeful efforts by educators to learn more about individual children’s unique needs and challenges in the context of our relationships with them, and equally purposeful observation and interpretation of children’s dispositions and behavior in their relationships with each other. This makes me wonder—among many other things—just how much we’ve sacrificed in supporting students’ learning, to say nothing of the fullness of their and our humanity, to the altar of academic ‘excellence’ as it’s conventionally constructed, and the slippery signifier of ‘college readiness’ as it currently dominates debate about school reform.

I hope to explore emerging and related questions more in the weeks and months to come. For now, my primary purpose was to share this compelling passage from Meier’s work and to invite your thoughts.

What do we know about children that we have neglected to honor in our commitments to traditional notions of academic excellence? What parts of this collective knowledge must we recapture and reintegrate? How might we draw on early learning practices to enrich students’ social, academic, and ethical development in K-12 schools in the years to come?

What if K-12 education were more like preschool?


Meier, D. (2002). The power of their ideas: Lessons for America from a small school in Harlem. New York: Beacon Press. (Original work published 1995)


Chris Thinnes is a veteran independent school leader, an active collaborator with educators from the private and public sectors, and an engaged public school parent. In the 2013-2014 school year, he was honored as a Fellow of the Martin Institute for Teaching Excellence, named one of Carney Sandoe’s “8 Thought Leaders to Follow Now,” and featured as a panelist for the ASCD Whole Child Town Hall.

This post originally appeared on and was republished with permission.

Service-Learning Develops Character in Students

By Michele Pitman, CEO of intelliVOL

Educating the whole child and developing character goes beyond the core subjects being taught each day. Many school districts recognize this and have instituted programs encouraging or requiring students to give time in service to their community and peers. Organizations like the National Honor Society have incentivized service, giving recognition for student efforts outside of school. And, when these students apply to colleges and universities, their service record usually improves their chance at being accepted.

Given how much we as a culture value community service and the well-rounded individual, more U.S. high schools need to offer institutionalized and systemized service opportunities for their students. In the vast majority of public schools, service is a club activity. In private schools, service is so important that it is graded. But in most public schools, students must find their own charitable organization and arrange to work there of their own initiative. There may be an advisor to help in this process or they have established relationships with nonprofits thereby making it is easier to connect, but a student’s service has no bearing on their formal school record.

The National Honor Society does fill in the gap where organized, school-mandated service is not available. Through the NHS, students give hours and track that data by school sponsors who are responsible for verifying, tracking and reporting student hours given to service. This legitimizes the student’s efforts and for college applications, is a critical validation in a hyper-competitive landscape.

Yet, turning service into more than simply checking-off-the-box-so-I-can-get-into-college scenario, requires a bit more effort. In the over 10 million service hours that students have logged and tracked for schools through our company, the overwhelming majority of school leaders tell us that students need to think about their service and its impact. They need to make a personal connection between their lives and those whom they have helped. Schools call this reflection. Service, they say, is more significant and meaningful when students are required to write down their thoughts after they’ve completed their service.

Teachers and student advisors recognize this connection between action and mind. Guilford County Schools in North Carolina has a very active service-learning program with over 1.4 million service hours logged to date, and is nationally recognized as a District of Character by Yvonne Eason is the coordinator for character development and service-learning at the district. Guilford, like many schools we work with, requires students to write down their thoughts about their service. “The reflections piece is huge for us. We’re looking for our students to reflect on the experience of service-learning. This goes well beyond just recording the number of learning hours served. It gives students a chance to share what impact each experience had on them personally as learners and individuals, as well as what type of impact they’re having on the community, or organization they’re serving,” says Ms. Eason.

Reflection is at the very base of building a well-rounded individual who has skills and experiences beyond classroom instruction. This simple action–writing down our thoughts of helping others—takes our regimented, subject-heavy learning environment beyond the “how” and answers the question, “Why?”


About the Author

Michele Pitman, creator of x2VOL developed the platform in partnership with high schools to give them an easier, more accurate way to manage, track, verify and report service hours students give in the community. x2VOL is the most widely used service tracking and reporting platform in K12 education with over 10 million approved service hours.


Parents can’t answer everything children ask about science – and that’s OK

Carol Davenport, Northumbria University, Newcastle

If a child asked you how close an astronaut can get to the sun, the chances are you’d need a moment – or perhaps a search engine – to figure it out. Anyone who has spent some time with young children know that they ask “why?” – a lot. Children have a curiosity about the world that leads them to question almost everything around them.

Unfortunately their parents typically don’t. A recent survey of 1,000 parents found that 83% of them couldn’t answer simple school science questions. While this may seem concerning, what’s more worrying is that 63% admitted to making up answers so that they didn’t have to admit to not knowing. So what should you do if you don’t know the answer?

The Institution of Engineering and Technology, which carried out the survey, and parenting website Mumsnet recently held a Twitter party with the hashtag #AskTheEngineers. Parents were asked to tweet questions that their children had asked, and then a team of engineers would tweet back answers. You can have a look at some of the questions below. Could you answer them?

  • How does gravity work? And what would happen without it?
  • Why do beavers build dams?
  • Why can’t we hear dog whistles?
  • How do stars stay in the sky?
  • How do onions make your eyes water?
  • Why do power stations have so much smoke coming out of them?
  • If light comes from the sun, where does dark come from?

Many primary schools put on after-school sessions for parents explaining how they can support their children with English and Maths. Parental support is known to be an important factor in how well a child does in school, so by equipping parents with the confidence to help their children, schools are aiming to improve the achievement of their pupils.

However, very few primary schools provide similar support in science. And, as the survey shows, this is an area that many parents feel unable to answer when their asked by their child.

Science isn’t about right and wrong

But do parents need to know all the answers? The questions posed to #AskTheEngineers cover a huge range of science and engineering topics – some not even taught at school. They also include questions that science doesn’t yet fully know the answer to (how does gravity work?) as well as questions that are more philosophical in nature (what is dark?). For that reason, I don’t think it makes sense to expect parents to know it all.

Parent and child thinking about science together.
Think Physics, Author provided

In fact, it’s far more important that parents feel confident in saying “I don’t know, let’s see if we can find out”. Many people who finished their science education at the age of 16 have gained the impression that science is about knowing the right answers because this is how they experienced science up to that point.

However, successful science involves not knowing the answer, but being willing to ask questions, just like children do. By admitting that they don’t know the answer and then searching for the answer, parents are modelling good practice to their children – supporting them in their educational development. There are many great websites that aim to communicate science to a general audience, including BBC iWonder, The Naked Scientists, or the Royal Institution ExpeRImental films.

I’m involved in the Think Physics project at Northumbria University, which is currently working with parents to increase their confidence in talking about science with their children. We have developed a five-week after-school club called “Science for Families”, which we are running with partner local authorities. Children, and their parents, come along to each session and together learn about different topics in science through hands on experiments using everyday objects.

The key aim of the sessions is to show parents that science is all about asking questions and exploring phenomena to find the answers. We aren’t aiming to “teach” parents the science topics that their children will be learning about, rather we are aiming to give them confidence to have conversations with their children about science.

Recent research has emphasised the importance of parents in children’s career choices, showing that parents who are comfortable talking about science are more likely to encourage their children into careers which involve science. So if you’re stuck with an inquisitive child or two at home, just embrace their curiosity and learn with them.

So how close is it possible for astronauts to get to the sun? The engineers at the Twitter party replied that satellites can get even closer than Mercury, which is the closest planet, but they get very hot. However, it takes years and years to get there, so we haven’t sent any astronauts yet. You can view more of the engineers’ answers here.

The Conversation

Carol Davenport, Director, Think Physics, Faculty of Engineering and Environment, Northumbria University, Newcastle

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Online school provides unique curriculum in rural areas

By Barb Meidinger —

The North Dakota Center for Distance Education on-line learning opportunities provide the perfect venue for inquisitive students who want to explore the world through their fingertips, without ever stepping foot into a classroom. They have made it one of their priorities to expand the minds of students in rural areas by offering unique online classes and a high school diploma program to students who never thought it was possible to learn in this unique manner.

In largely populated areas students are typically able to choose from a wide variety of core and elective level classes with a hands-on learning experience in a classroom setting. In districts with only a handful of students, combined with a tight budget, the variety of options outside the core curriculum isn’t always possible for a district. Because of this situation the North Dakota Center for Distance Education (NDCDE) chose to expand their curriculum offerings with courses provided by the #1 publisher of online career and elective courses, eDynamic Learning.

“It is our responsibility to ensure ALL students receive the best education possible, no matter what the circumstances,” said Barb Meidinger, NDCDE’s secondary principal. “With the addition of eDynamic Learning elective courses, schools and students can select from over 50 engaging, relevant courses to round out their education.”

Today’s tech savvy students enjoy the user-friendly format and the freedom to access classes anytime from anywhere. At the North Dakota Center for Distance Education students have the option to take as little as one class per semester, or they can enroll in the high school diploma program and graduate from NDCDE ready for college. These unique opportunities would not be possible without the ala Carte list of classes and the flexibility and vision of eDynamic Learning founder and CEO, Kevin Viau.

“I met Kevin back in 2007 when he was just starting eDynamic Learning. At that time he only offered two Social Studies classes! The eDynamic portfolio might have been limited, but I knew our students would benefit from the high-quality, relevant content the courses had to offer,” said Meidinger. “It was easy to make the decision to work with Kevin in 2007 and here we are 8 years later still engaged with him and the company! His vision and his ability to understand the type of content that engages students keeps eDynamic Learning at the forefront of online learning.”

Over the years NDCDE has adopted dozens of core and elective courses offered from a select group of vendors, including eDynamic Learning. However, students gravitate toward eDynamic Learning courses to study unique subjects as: culinary arts, forensic science, public speaking, law and order, criminology, and so on, because they are so different from a traditional course.

“We receive a lot of positive comments about eDynamic Learning courses from students on the evaluation survey we send to them after every course they take,” explained learning management systems manager, Mike Miller. “They are learning new information with every course and it is refreshing to hear them say they are being challenged in a good way.”

NDCDE staff believes they are filling the educational gap between electives and core curriculum by providing the courses that smaller districts can’t offer. They couldn’t do it without the courses offered and created by eDynamic.

“We asked Kevin if he could create a new mythology and folklore course because ours was tired and uninteresting and he granted our request! eDynamic Learning created the course just for us, and now it’s part of their course catalogue and one of our most popular classes,” stated Meidinger.

In the early 1930’s, North Dakota led the way in recognizing the learning limitations that were forced on rural students. The state championed NDCDE as one of the first schools focused on correspondence courses. The school, once dependent on snail mail, is now ahead of its time with 24-hour accessibility to a quality education with course variety and career exploration thrown into the mix.

“The mission of the school is to introduce students to things they may have never seen or thought of, and self discovery is one the best parts of being in education,” said Meidinger. “Teachers like teaching the eDynamic Learning courses and students like taking them! You can’t get any better than that.”

NDCDE hopes to expand student opportunities even more by opening their first ‘Learning Lab’ where students K-12 are able to go for additional hands-on learning experiences. The lab, located in the offices of NDCDE, will open in late summer 2015. The Center for Distance Education will work with schools throughout North Dakota to make similar labs available for their students.

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Barb Meidinger is the Secondary Principal at the North Dakota Center for Distance Education.


High School Dropouts: The Stats and Possible Solutions

While recent high school dropout rates appear to be on the decline, the numbers are still too high to stomach, especially with all of the alternative options high school students now have to finish their diplomas outside traditional classroom settings. At this juncture in U.S. K-12 progress, the dropout rate should be barely worth mentioning.  So, what does the typical high school dropout look like, and how can we address the situation?

The Numbers

Since the government started tracking the dropout rates specifically for Hispanic students in 1972, this group has consistently had the highest percentages of students who fail to complete a high school diploma. In 1972, over one-third of all Hispanic students dropped out. Today that number is down to 13.6 percent, but the group still leads all races and ethnicities when it comes to young people out of school with no diploma or G.E.D. Black students dropped out at a rate of 29 percent in 1967 (the first year the group was tracked) and that number is down to 7 percent (the same as the national average) today. White students have always held on to the lowest percentage of the dropout pie chart, even when their numbers represented a larger majority of total student populations. In 1967, 15 percent of white students dropped out of high school; today, just 5 percent do.

When it comes to gender, there has not been much differentiation when it comes to percentages in over 40 years.  As far as economic backgrounds, lower-income students have always been at a high school graduation disadvantage. In 2009, students from families in low-income brackets ran a risk of dropping out that was five times higher than high-income peers. Still, the future is not completely bleak for kids from disadvantaged economic environments; in 1975, low-income students dropped out at a rate of 16 percent but that number now sits comfortably under 10 percent.

One unchanging factor when it comes to the dropout rate is socioeconomic background. Since the National Center for Education Statistics first started tracking different groups of high school students in the late 1960s, the socioeconomic status of each pupil has impacted the graduation rate. Students from low-income families are 2.4 times more likely to drop out than middle-income kids, and over 10 times more likely than high-income peers to drop out.

Household income is the not the only disadvantage many dropouts have, though. Students with learning or physical disabilities drop out at a rate of 36 percent. Overall, a student who does not fit the traditional classroom mold, or who falls behind for some reason, is more likely to lose motivation when it comes to high school and decide to give up altogether.

One thing is certain, a high school diploma is the first step to a better life.  Therefore, that should be a starting point for focus.

So what can be done to increase the percentage of high school graduates?

One solution is increased involvement from the business community.  There is money to be made and an economic boost is possible – but only if these students stick around long enough to obtain a high school diploma, and potentially seek out college opportunities. Georgia is a great example of a state that has taken advantage of the business community to help improve graduation rates. Areas like Atlanta Metro have some of the strongest business leaders in the nation, and school officials have begun to call on them for guidance and funding when it comes to improving graduation rates.

Further support outside the classroom would also go a long way toward improving drop out statistics.

Since risk factors for dropouts include coming from low-income or single-parent families and teachers simply cannot address emotional needs of every student–programs need to be in place for students who are at risk for dropping out. A pilot program in San Antonio called Communities in Schools has set out to accomplish this through offering on-campus counseling services for students on the fence about dropping out. Of the students in the program in the 2012 – 2013 school year, 97 percent obtained a high school diploma instead of dropping out.

Finally, earlier education for all would address the problem before these teens reach the proverbial crossroads.  In truth, the learning and social experiences they have from birth influence their attitudes about education, society and their own lives. Perhaps the dip in dropout rates in the past four decades hinges on another statistic: from 1980 to 2000, the number of four-year-old children in the U.S. enrolled in preschool programs rose from half to over two-thirds.  It’s time to stop making the high school dropout issue something that is confronted in the moment; prevention, as early as pre-K learning, is a long-term solution.

What do you think? What is the solution to the high school dropout crisis?

How to successfully turn drop-outs into graduates

One school’s resilient Second Chance program helps students earn their diplomas and overcome stereotypes about credit recovery.

By Matthew Lynch

When you think about credit-recovery programs you likely think of truant or at-risk students. These students, who need a push to catch up after falling behind, are getting lost in the shuffle, leading to lower overall graduation rates in high schools across the country. With a well-structured academic support system combined with credit-recovery options, district leaders at Lawrence County Community Unit School District experienced a 9% increase in graduation rates. Administrators have also seen what cutting its Second Chance program did to the district and how it teaches at-risk students a lot more than the Common Core.

Here’s a typical story from Lawrence County CUSD. The only thing between Joe (a senior whose name has been changed) and his hard-earned high school diploma was one English final. Thinking he could breeze by, Joe failed the test, meaning that walking the stage to collect his diploma with the rest of his class was no longer a reality. After a series of meetings with the school’s guidance counselor and the principal, the team created a credit recovery plan. Joe was given three days to complete an entire semester’s work. Two all-night study sessions, three long days in the computer lab, and a passing grade got him a diploma—and the overwhelming feeling of success earned through determination.

Joe was lucky. He had a second chance, something many students don’t ever get. The reputation and perceived expense of credit-recovery and second-chance programs has caused schools across the country to quietly cut these programs, leaving students to find their own options. The truth is, not every student who could benefit from credit recovery or alternative options is an at-risk student. Many are special ed, are working to get ahead of the curve, or graduate on time with the rest of their class.

Lawrence County CUSD started its Second Chance Program about 13 years ago to help the group of nonconforming, at-risk students gain diploma status. Students would leave the traditional classroom setting to receive extra time and help from a specialized teacher. Within eight years, the school’s graduation rates increased dramatically.

In 2012, funding for Lawrence County’s Second Chance Program was cut, leaving at-risk students to struggle through courses in the traditional classroom setting. Graduation rates quickly dropped to less than 70%. Two years later, the Second Chance Program was revived with a new look, a new name, and a new online component allowing for even more flexibility. Since its resurgence, graduation rates have increased from 70% to 79%. This school year, administrators at Lawrence County CUSD hope to reach their goal of an 85% graduation rate.

Welcome to the LHS School Within A School Classroom

At Lawrence County CUSD, teacher Barbara Fabyan has her own school within a school classroom at the high school where students needing extra academic support can come during the school day. It’s an environment that removes students from their regular classrooms, so they’re able to concentrate on their schoolwork without distraction. At any given time, she may have a 9th-grade student with an IEP needing special assistance on a project or another student who is at risk of dropping out and without determination may miss the deadline to graduate with the rest of his or her class.

While dozens of students come into her class strictly to recover failed credits, “Odysseyware, the customizable online curriculum program and credit recovery software we use, allows me to restructure entire courses or individual topics and assessments to best fit the student’s needs,” Fabyan said.

Fabyan’s classroom also serves as an alternative for students wishing to work at a faster pace. For example, one of her students had knee surgery and couldn’t participate in gym class. Instead, she worked through an online curriculum provider to earn a year’s worth of history credits in one semester.

Online options give students the freedom to work at their own pace while sticking with Illinois State Standards. Lawrence County offers a blended learning option which, based on the increase in graduation rates, has proven successful for students so far.

A Wake-up Call for Students

Fabyan uses a  “tough love” approach to teaching in the credit-recovery classroom. “Making mistakes is part of learning,” she said. “When students come in, they know it’s their last chance to complete the work and make it to graduation. Some students have dug themselves a deep hole with truancy and behavioral issues, and they know my classroom is the only place they can go to dig themselves out. It’s a wake-up call.”

When students enter Fabyan’s classroom, they often have negative thoughts about specific classes, teachers, and school in general—prejudices that hold them back from success. Her mission is to break down the walls of what “school” is and show students success is possible, but it won’t come easy. With the support from her fellow teachers and administration, Fayban and her students are constantly empowered to beat the odds and push through adversity. It’s the encouragement that keeps the program alive, allows students to reach their goals using whatever means it takes.

Rising to the Challenge

According to the Center for Public Education, 47% of high school dropouts cite “uninteresting classes” as the major reason for leaving, and 35% say “failing in school” was a major factor in dropping out. With the virtual labs, videos, audio, and games that they get from an online curriculum, students are pleasantly surprised, then challenged and engaged.

“My students realize the traditional courses they were taking may have been easier compared to Odysseyware,” said Fabyan. “Students that used to be failing are excelling with more difficult content. They realize they really have to work hard to pass. It’s more challenging, but in a way they are more engaged in the content and actually learning.”

She notes many students saying, “I really feel like I’m learning something,” and, “If I had this online option for more of my courses I would know more, and wouldn’t have fallen behind in the first place.”

That sort of realization makes students sprint to the end and get their diplomas. By the time at-risk students have their certificate in hand, they’ve learned a lot more than the Common Core. They’ve mastered the art of overcoming challenges and are part of changing the reputation of students using credit recovery. And now, because of the great success of the Second Chance Program, classroom teachers all over Lawrence County CUSD are using Odysseyware to better align their lessons with CCSS and engage students in a typical classroom setting.

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Why High School Graduation Is the Key to Improving At-Risk Communities: Part I  

A guest post by Frank Britt, CEO of Penn Foster

Education is the catalyst for bottom-up change and can become the epicenter of transformation for communities. With a high school diploma, at-risk youth can be armed with academic pedigree, are far more attractive professionals and have better social and civic skills. This milestone creates a catalyst for driving personal and communal change. Educate our youth, and our communities will flourish.

What Drives (and Improves) Economic and Productivity Growth in a Community?

States that invest in k-12 education help build a strong foundation for economic success and prosperity, according to the 2013 Economic Analysis and Research Network report, “A Well-Educated Workforce Is Key to State Prosperity.”

Education is the cornerstone to providing people from disadvantaged backgrounds with decent healthcare and sufficient nutrition, the report found. Education also equates to greater productivity. Economic Policy Institute analysis found that between 1979 and 2007, states with greater productivity also had increased median worker compensation, thus supporting the strong link between productivity and education. In other words, giving workers access to high-quality education strengthens the economic infrastructure of a state—the effect on local communities is no different.

High school diplomas are commonly the jumping-off point to such improvements, as is continuing education to cultivate a skilled and productive workforce. Education boosts productivity and redistributes the increased earnings into higher wages for workers.

What Drives (and Improves) Poverty and Income Inequality in a Community?

Income inequality and poverty-stricken households significantly influence the demise of a local community. And a low-income community driven by under-educated individuals actually perpetuates this chronic cycle of fiscal depression. This a primary reason that the U.S. economy is growing but the traditional “all boats will rise” prosperity phenomena has not happened is because millions of people exist outside the economic mainstream and lack the skills and opportunity to exploit this middle-skills labor gap moment.

Combating poverty with initiatives to lower high school dropout rates is an essential ingredient, according to John Bridgeland in his article “Fight Poverty: Lower High School Dropout Rates.” Without high school completion, young people experience higher unemployment rates and rates of receiving public assistance, going to prison, divorcing and becoming single parents—all catalysts for a life and community plagued by poverty. Poverty is cyclical, yet academic options specifically designed to meet the unique needs of these low-income individuals can break the treacherous cycle.

Dropout prevention and high school completion programs designed to meet the specific needs and challenges of the nontraditional student (such as hybrid learning models) can help raise high school graduation rates and make both secondary education or career opportunities more viable.

The Time Is Now

Poverty and income inequality are combustible forces that can destroy families, corrupt communities and harden society in countless ways. The good news is that the common vaccine to all these ailments is education, starting with a high school degree. More than 90 percent of jobs demand this credential to get a job, and the imperative for all stakeholders (students, parents, schools, businesses and government) is to build a cohesive plan of attack.

The high school diploma serves as the cornerstone to future citizens and our communities. If academic communities can collectively address educational crises by implementing both traditional and unconventional student solutions, we can foster higher economic returns, poverty mitigation, crime-free environments and enhanced civility.

Frank Britt is the CEO of Penn Foster, a leading career-focused online and hybrid education institution that annually supports over 100,000 active students and 1,000 institutions nationwide. His mission is to create a national movement to better connect education, career pathways and job creation, and to promote debt-free and affordable learning. By utilizing the power of practical education, career training and hands-on mentoring, he has helped improve the lives of everyone from underprivileged children and families, to front-line workers and recent college graduates. His efforts recognize the challenges faced by the 7,000 people that regrettably drop out of high school each day, the 4 million middle-skilled workers seeking employment, 50-70 year olds transitioning careers, and the thousands of veterans focused on establishing new career pathways.

Should college and high school diplomas be earned together?

The term “college prep” as it relates to high school paths has a different meaning than when I was a teenager. The high school courses that I took that were “college prep” were designed to prepare me for higher education after I first earned my high school diploma. Today, it’s not uncommon for high school students to have several college credits before they walk across that graduation stage — and some may even have associate’s degrees. Dual enrollment, where students can simultaneously earn high school and college credits, is offered in schools across the country, and supported through legislation (and President Obama has been a vocal supporter of it).

While critics may say it’s just too much too soon for teens, I tend to lean the other direction. I think it’s important to zero in on what possible careers high school students may aspire to have as adults and to start them down the path early — before they have a chance to drop out and before life gets in the way.

Dual enrollment extends beyond traditional classroom settings, too. Virtual classes for both high school and college curriculum are available to teens and the ability to manage both is much more flexible with this setup. Recently, Coffee County Schools and Wiregrass Georgia Technical College (WGTC) announced a partnership called the Wiregrass Regional College and Career Academy that will give students in 11 Southern Georgia counties a chance to take classes from both a fully accredited virtual high school and college. Students will be able to earn their high school diploma AND a college associate’s degree at the same time — with state-mandated tests and exams proctored at locations throughout the area. What’s more — the program is FREE through the state’s Move on When Ready initiative. The schools will tap K-12 virtual learning curriculum Odysseyware for course completion.

Earning both a high school diploma AND a college degree at the same time is certainly not for every student – but should be an option for those who are ready to jump start their careers.

Solving the special education teacher deficit

Across the nation schools are trying to locate and hire qualified special education teachers. The open positions are abundant and many teachers are not equipped to handle the challenges this difficult job presents. Schools often settle for inexperienced or under qualified candidates who may not last even a year or two.

The Lee Pesky Learning Center, in conjunction with Boise State University, believes that adequate teacher preparation can make all the difference. This nonprofit organization is working to overcome the teacher shortage by preparing individuals for the unique demands and challenges of working with special needs students.

The Pesky Center in Boise provides one-on-one instruction for special needs students after school hours, studying with an “education specialist.” Students of all ages come to work on anything from multiplication to reading comprehension with a mentor. Attention is placed on instructional components, how the student is responding and if goals are being achieved.

Founded in 1997, The Pesky Center was established to help students with learning disabilities. At the moment, the most pressing issue is locating and developing quality special education instructors. The center is helping to address this teacher shortage with a new training program. Students working toward a master’s in teaching at Boise State can apply to spend one year at the center as an instructor, while taking classes. The training and classes of this Special Education Collaborative program are covered by a scholarship from the founders of the center, Alan and Wendy Pesky.

Over the coming years, the hope is to grow the program and train even more teachers on the intricacies of working with special needs students. Professional development opportunities and training programs such as this will only help to tackle the special education teacher shortage by equipping educators with the skills necessary to be successful in their profession long-term.