In the past year, the Chicago school district has experienced severe budget cuts that have led to school closures and, in turn, protests.
That’s not stopping the district, however, from creating new opportunities for hundreds of high school dropouts.
The district recently announced an expansion of more than 800 seats in alternative option schools, starting in the 2014-15 school year.
“We will not give up on any student. Doubling the number of quality options and alternative pathways to nontraditional learning environments allows us to help our hardest to reach children and provide them a chance to succeed,” Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said in a release. “Meeting more of our children’s unique needs through alternative options is a key piece of my five-year action plan. With parents, teachers and principals working together, we can bring students who are out of school or off-track back onto a path to reaching their goals.”
The district plans to use new and expanded partnerships with providers that specialize in teaching out-of-school and off-track youth.
According to The National Center for Education Statistics, the dropout rate in the United States declined from 12 percent in 1990 to 7 percent in 2010. The South and the West have the greatest concentration of dropouts.
Even with a decline, the Brookings Institute estimated in 2010 that there were between 3.5 and 6 million dropouts in this country.
It noted that “school dropouts earned $15,700 less than adults with a high school degree and well over $35,000 less than those with a two-year degree. Over a forty-five-year career the earnings difference between a dropout and someone with only a high school degree can amount to more than $700,000.”
It’s no surprise then that Chicago isn’t alone in its efforts to target dropouts.
Tulsa Public Schools in Oklahoma recently announced a similar program to help students in conjunction with Tulsa Technology Center. The pilot program, which is modeled after a similar one in Oklahoma City, would initially reach about 60 students.
Oklahoma’s dropout rate is higher than eight percent. According to Tulsa school officials, about 669 dropouts need to be reached through the program.
“There is a great need for students to have an alternative that is more relevant to what their interests are and to applied learning,” Steve Tiger, superintendent and chief executive officer at Tulsa Tech, told the Tulsa World. “Other technology centers around the state including Francis Tuttle in Oklahoma City and Pioneer Tech in Ponca City are already using this model with great success, in large part because career academies support students with wrap-around services to help ensure their success.”
In Indiana, Goodwill Industries will invest $2 million this summer to help open four new “excel centers” to help dropouts earn a diploma. There are already five such free, public charter schools in the state. According to the Goodwill Education Initiative website, “The mission of The Excel Center is to provide adults the opportunity and support to earn a high school diploma and post-secondary education while developing career paths that offer greater employment and career growth opportunities.”
The Tacoma, Washington, school district’s Reengagement and Graduation Support Center works in partnership with Tacoma Community College’s Fresh Start Program to help dropouts through various tracks. One such program, Fresh Start, allows students to earn college credit and obtain their high school diploma simultaneously.
Such programs are critical throughout the country if the United States is to succeed. As President Barack Obama said in 2010, “In this kind of knowledge economy giving up on your education and dropping out of school means not only giving up on your future, but it’s also giving up on your family’s future and giving up on your country’s future.”
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