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College and careers

An overhaul of the district’s career education programs seeks to make classes more challenging and put career-track students on the path to higher ed, but many schools have lost programs, and fewer students are participating overall.

More scrutiny on the horizon for Chicago’s alternative schools; advocates call for more money

CEO Ron Huberman said today that he’s added positions charged with going out, finding dropouts and figuring out what’s needed to pull them back into school. He also told the audience at a dropout forum that he is putting alternative schools through his performance management process, to figure out which ones are effective and which ones aren’t.

 

CEO Ron Huberman said today that he’s added positions charged with going out, finding dropouts and figuring out what’s needed to pull them back into school. He also told the audience at a dropout forum that he is putting alternative schools through his performance management process, to figure out which ones are effective and which ones aren’t.

“We want to know, ‘What is the return on our money?’ ” he said during the program on  re-enrolling Illinois high school dropouts. “We are doing an analysis that looks at one school spending $7,000 that has figured it out, while another one hasn’t. All alternative programs are not alike.”

Huberman offered no other details, except to say that these efforts are linked to his school safety plan.

His comments might have sent shivers through the downtown banquet room, which included several principals of alternative schools. Yet even the strongest advocates for alternative programs agree on the need to measure the effectiveness of these schools.

Much of the event focused on getting policymakers to include an extra $25 million for alternative schools in the state’s application for the federal Race to the Top grant. But one of the three recommendations presented during the luncheon, sponsored by the Chicago Urban League and the Alternative Schools Network, was for development of performance standards for programs serving re-enrolled students.

Getting a baseline on how well these schools are performing is difficult. Alternative schools have high mobility and no reliable formula for calculating graduation rates, according to the Fall issue of Catalyst In Depth. Also, these schools are seeing an increasing number of older dropouts—aged 18 and 19—with only a handful of credits and reading levels at 8th grade or lower.

Jack Wuest, the executive director of the Alternative Schools Network, an advocacy group, said that providing opportunities for dropouts is crucial. Statistics produced by his organization underscore the issue: the number of dropouts has increased in Illinois by 12 percentage points, and nationwide, almost a quarter of black male dropouts are in jail.

Wuest used the event to honor politicians and union representatives who helped pass two pieces of legislation deemed important to re-enrolling dropouts. One law increased the number of charter schools in Illinois, setting aside five charters for alternative schools in Chicago. The other bill, called iHope, calls for extra funding for alternative schools—something that Wuest says is needed for them to be effective.

The big problem: iHope is unfunded. Wuest sees the Race to the Top funds as the best chance to get money for the program. However, in the 50-page draft application drawn up in August, there’s no mention of dropouts, reenrollment or iHope.

On Thursday, federal guidelines were released for Race to the Top and nothing in them would seem to preclude asking for money for alternative schools for dropouts as part of a more comprehensive school reform plan.

However, there will be many competing interests. Wuest acknowledged that, noting that his wife works on early childhood issues and everyone likes and is sympathetic to little children. “Nobody likes teenagers,” he said.

 


 

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