Dropout Series Starts In Chicago

Over the past several months, Claudio Sanchez – NPR’s longtime national education reporter – has been hard at work assembling a set of stories about dropouts that's going to run all week. The first segment, airing this morning, focuses on a Chicago youth involved with Youth Connections.

As long a project as he’s ever worked on, Sanchez’s quintet of segments comes out of the economic reporting that NPR has already been doing on "Planet Money" – stories that focus on the real-world impact of the recession. In five segments ranging from five to seven minutes each, Sanchez wanted to look at those who were most likely to have been laid off first (or never employed in the first place), and to be unemployed longest (unless jail counts as a form of employment these days).  There are apparently some bright spots – kids making progress and programs doing good things to help kids out and get them a diploma.  But no doubt the dropout issue, like unemployment and poverty, has been off the front burner of domestic policy too long.  Retention and recovery programs get little attention, and accountability and school safety programs create more dropouts as collateral damage. “Suspension and expulsion big contributors to dropouts,” says Sanchez. “Very few states have a handle on that, and schools’ predisposition is to dump people.” Sanchez calls getting accurate honest and up to date data on dropouts “next to impossible” despite several much-touted efforts to do just that. (Recall that in 2005 45 states and the NGA committed to developing a common measure for HS graduation rate.)  It's not strictly an education problem, though of course there are substantial educational implications.

Click here for the full set of segments.



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  • Alexander in his post indicated that Claudio Sanchez's NPR stories would begin this morning, actually it is this afternoon on All Things Considered. That story will apparently be replayed Tuesday morning. The first story is the one that discusses the student attending Youth Connections charter school (YCCS). Based on Linda Wertheimer's interview with Mr. Sanchez that aired yesterday I have some initial concerns about whether Mr. Sanchez is going to look in a very serious way at the larger outcomes issues for students attending Youth Connections charter school where the student went.

    Here is what Mr. Sanchez said in his interview with Ms. Wertheimer: "I don't know if there's a solution, a big solution out there, but, yes, there are many examples of some communities, some cities and states that have done some good things. Chicago is a good example. It has created a network of 22 charter schools that literally rescue the youngest dropouts, some directly from jail. These kids are getting a second chance to improve their reading, writing and math skills; learn a skill and how to apply for a job." I cannot argue that this statement is wrong in the least. But there are very real questions about actual statistical outcomes for YCCS campuses.

    This has been discussed before on this blog. There is a very legitimate discussion to be had about this program, now that it has been in place for many years. Again by way of disclosure I would tell readers that I was a member of the founding Board of YCCS and left rapidly due to my appointment to be part of the Federal Court monitoring team in the Corey H case.

    Data available from the Illinois State Board of Education indicates that in 2000 YCCS enrolled 1,242 students and by 2010 the school enrolled 3,408 students, that is statistically a 174% increase in enrollment in ten years. In 2010 CPS paid YCCS $7,213 per student in basic tuition or about $24.6 million ($7,213 x 3,408) depending on the actual enrollment number used last year plus special education reimbursements. That is a fair amount of money by any standard.

    The ISBE indicates using its drop out calculation system that 54.5% of enrolled YCCS students dropped out from this program in 2010, effectively dropping out a second time. The school is also listed has having a chronic truancy rate of 106%. YCCS formally has a very good graduation rate according to ISBE, in 2010 it is listed as being 82.3%. This would seem to be counter intuitive to a charter school network also having a 54.5% drop out rate.

    There is a reason for that. ISBE calculated its graduation rate by taking the number of 2009-10 high school graduates, divided by the 2006 first-time grade 9 fall enrollment (not including students transferred out), plus students transferred in, multiplied by 100. [Numerator = number of graduates, denominator = (grade 9 enrollment – transfers out) + transfers in]. “Transfers out” include students from the freshman class who transferred to school or died prior to graduation. “Transfers in” encompass 2009-10 graduates who were not counted in the 2006 first-time grade 9 fall enrollment; transfers in may include students who transferred from another school, students with or without disabilities, and students who graduated in fewer or more than four years.

    The problem for examining this issue for YCCS this way is the school gets students who are in many cases formally 10 grade students, so the denominator is out of whack effectively. According to CPS data YCCS in 2006 had an adjusted 9th grade cohort of only 197 students. CPS uses internally a much better approach to these statistical issues of drop out and graduation calculation. To see this data go to https://research.cps.k12.il.us/cps/accountweb/Reports/allschools.html

    CPS uses a cohort analysis and also gives the school 5 years to graduate a student. Here is the CPS data for 2010 for YCCS: five year dropout rate of 78.2% and a 5 year graduation rate of 21%. Effectively CPS is spending millions to recover very few students. In terms of academic achievement, for those few YCCS students who do make it to grade 11, 75.2% are reading below state standards. This does not mean that YCCS students did not learn anything while attending the charter school, to know that one would need to do value added analysis of YCCS students. I would bet that those few YCCS students who went to class given a second chance did learn and improve academically, but really very few did that.

    We can ask if the overall investment in drop recovery is cost beneficial and I would suspect that it is not. We can also ask if YCCS was beneficial for some individual students and I would expect that it is. This is a dilemma and I am not sure if Claudio Sanchez's NPR stories will get to these perplexing questions, but I will be listening to see if they do.

    Rod Estvan

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