For Michelle Melendez, the distractions at her local high school were too much. She was not getting her work done; she was doing poorly. “I was a troubled child,” she said.
So she enrolled in the ASPIRA Bilingual Virtual Charter School in the fall of 2011 – the school was brand-new then – and she says she has no regrets.
Sandwiches piled high on a platter, a fresh vegetable tray, pizza, sodas, cake – all for nine young people, most with Latino surnames, most male, who were the center of attention on a recent day at Olney Charter High School.
Their achievement: showing up.
Comprehensive neighborhood high schools across the nation struggle with dropout prevention, and Philadelphia’s are no different.
“What you see in that research is that these schools tend to have a higher concentration of really at-risk kids,” said Kate Shaw, executive director of Research for Action.
“In part because of that, the percentage of kids who graduate is much lower.”
And although principals at a handful of neighborhood high schools – Roxborough, George Washington, Germantown and Ben Franklin – said that helpful strategies aren’t hard to identify, most also acknowledged that implementing changes in an age of budget cuts, staff turnover, and districtwide strategic shifts is a constant challenge.
Philadelphia’s graduation rate continues to improve, yet only about two-thirds of students who start 9th grade in public schools get a diploma four years later.
As the Notebook does its eighth annual edition focusing on the city’s dropout crisis, this is both encouraging and sobering news.
Encouraging because the gains are slow and steady, which makes it more likely that they are real, said Ruth Curran Neild, lead author of Unfulfilled Promise, the 2006 report that first offered hard data and highlighted the depth of the problem in Philadelphia.
But sobering because there are entrenched issues that the city’s educational leaders have yet to conquer. One of those is 9th grade, still where most dropouts run aground.
Interviews by Charlotte Pope and Julie Mazziotta, photos by Chris Willis and Julie Mazziotta
Graduation rates for Philadelphia students are not available for cyber charters; neither the School District nor the state publishes that information.
The state tracks the statewide graduation rates for cybers, using a different methodology from the District’s. The state also publishes a graduation rate for economically disadvantaged students at cybers.
District officials cited financial necessity in their decision to close 23 schools. They pointed to long-term savings from fewer buildings and said the downsizing would stabilize the District financially, allowing it to focus its resources.
Major funding for this edition of the Notebook was provided through a partnership with Project U-Turn, a citywide campaign to focus public attention on Philadelphia’s dropout crisis and design strategies and leverage investments to resolve it.
A new Graduation Nation report shows that the country is on track to reach a 90 percent high school graduation rate by 2020. Pennsylvania, however, is one of 23 states not on track to reach that milestone -- largely due to lagging progress in graduating Black and Latino students.
Pennsylvania is one of 20 states in which the African American graduation rate is below 66 percent, and one of 16 states in which the Latino graduation rate is below 66 percent (both are 65 percent). The gap between White and Black graduation rates and White and Latino graduation rates is, in both cases, 23 percentage points. The White graduation rate in Pennsylvania now stands at 88 percent.