• By Kevin Mount
  • Posted on Wednesday 17th October, 2007

DRAFT Elite College prep programs for dropouts

Most agree that keeping kids in school is a worthy goal, but there’s surprisingly little information about how to do it. Drop-out prevention programs abound, but few have been rigorously evaluated. It’s not clear what works. Some programs focus on the behavior or learning problems that lead kids to drop out. Others – such as academic alternative schools – “resemble elite college prep programs instead of correctional facilities” according to Cynthia Franklin of the University of Texas and her colleagues, reporting on a study of an example of the breed in a recent issue of Children & Schools.The school that Franklin and her colleagues studied accepted high school students in danger of dropping out and provided them with individual instruction on goal-setting and taking responsibility for their own education. Students followed a self-paced curriculum that allowed them to take more time on subjects that were difficult for them and to progress more quickly through subjects that played to their strengths. (For more information on the program and others like it, see: http://www.utexas.edu/ssw/faculty/franklin)To assess the impact of the school, the researchers compared 46 students in the school to 39 similar students (in terms of age, race, gender, income, and school attendance) who attended a traditional high school nearby. They found that, although the alternative school students generally had fewer credits than those at the traditional school when they first enrolled, the alternative school students actually caught up and surpassed their counterparts in the space of a single semester. By contrast, the students in the regular high school had higher attendance rates but the authors suggest this could be accounted for by the self-paced curriculum that allows students with jobs or parenting responsibilities to spend less time at school. The study also found that it generally took students in the alternative school longer to graduate from high school than students in the traditional school. The research team suggest that this result is not surprising given that students in the former school often have responsibilities (again, related to jobs and parenting) that tend to slow down their educational progress. However, the authors did not compare the prevalence of such responsibilities among the students in the two groups, so it is difficult to assess whether they really could account for the difference in graduation rates.This small study is al step toward understanding what keeps kids in school. Larger studies that randomly assign kids equally at risk of dropping out and equally motivated to attend an alternative school to either attend a traditional or alternative program could shed more light on the subject.“The Effectiveness of a Solution-Focused, Public Alternative School for Dropout Prevention and Retrieval” by Cynthia Franklin, Calvin L. Streeter, Johnny S Kim, and Stephen J. Tripodi in Children & Schools, July 2007, Vol. 29 Issue 3, p133-144.

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