New measures to tackle dropouts

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

School District officials are encouraged by an upward trend in the graduation rate and say that the full impact on dropout prevention of improvements in the District’s curriculum, its zero tolerance policy, and high school reforms will not be realized for several years.

But the District is also addressing the dropout crisis by implementing or expanding a set of “targeted reforms.” These measures are mostly expected to move forward, though anticipated cutbacks in the District’s budget are putting some initiatives in jeopardy.

Alternative pathways to graduation are one focus for the District. Officials acknowledge that thousands more slots are needed in such programs.

Here are some key dropout prevention initiatives taking place in Philadelphia schools:

Middle Grades Acceleration Program (MGAP): For overage eighth grade students, this District initiative creates self-contained programs offering intensive reading and math instruction and wrap-around supports.

Dropout Recovery Specialists: A pilot program this fall in seven high schools focuses on recruiting and re-enrolling overage high school dropouts to either day school or one of the other pathways to graduation.

Accelerated High Schools: These small schools generally enroll students from ages 17-21 who have accumulated fewer than eight credits and are currently out of school; the city’s fourth accelerated high school opened this fall, bringing the total citywide enrollment to 750 students.

Gateway to College: Launched this fall at Community College of Philadelphia, this dual enrollment program for high school dropouts allows students ages 16-20 to simultaneously earn college credits and their high school diploma. The program is slated to grow to serve 400 students.

Educational Options Program: Formerly known as Twilight Schools, these afternoon alternative diploma programs at 11 schools citywide are being restructured to increase and improve course offerings and better serve low-literacy students.

CORE Philly: A city scholarship program guarantees one year of “last-dollar” funding to Philadelphia high school graduates wishing to attend college at any public two-year or four-year college in Pennsylvania.