Who Is In Charge

Slight bad and good news in grad, dropout rates

Colorado’s high school graduation rate declined to 73.9 percent in 2008 from 75 percent the previous year, the state Department of Education reported Thursday.

But, the percentage of students in grades 7-12 who dropped out in the 2007-08 school year declined to 3.8 percent, compared to 4.4 percent the year before.

“While we are disappointed that the progress made last year in terms of the graduation rate has not continued, we are pleased to see a significant decrease in the dropout rate,” said education Commissioner Dwight Jones.

The statewide graduation rate rose from just below 80 percent in 1997 to above 80 percent in 2003 before starting to decline. However, the method for calculating the rate was changed for the 2006-07 school year. (Click here for more detailed information on the CDE website.)

The graduation rate does not include students who’ve received a GED or other designations of high school completion. Colorado’s so-called “completer rate,” which includes such students, was 78.8 percent in 2008, down 1 percent from the prior.

The state’s dropout rated slowly declined from about 3.5 percent in 1996-97 to about 2.5 percent in 2002-03. It then rose to about 4.5 percent in 2005-06 before starting to fall slightly. (Click here for more detailed historic information.)

Nationally, the graduation rate has fluctuated in a relatively narrow range for almost three decades. It was 74.4 percent in 1976-77 and 74.7 percent in 2004-05, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

The national status dropout rate in 2006 was 9.3 percent, according to the center. That figure is the percentage of 16-24 year olds who aren’t in high school or don’t have a high school credential, a different statistic than what Colorado reports.

As in past years, there are significant gaps in graduation rates by gender and ethnic groups.

77.4 percent of girls graduated in 2008, 70.7 percent of boys. Both figures were down from the prior year.

Here are the 2008 figures by ethnic group:

  • Hispanic, 55.6 percent
    Native American, 57.5 percent
    Black, 64.1 percent
    White, 81.6 percent
    Asian, 82.8 percent

All groups were down from 2007.

The state has made modest attempts in the last two years to address graduation and dropout rates. A 2007 law created a grant program so that some districts could hire more counselors, and CDE has been operating a pilot Close the Achievement Gap program in six districts.

The 2009 legislative passed House Bill 09-1243, which creates an office of dropout prevention in the department. The office is intended to assist districts in dropout prevention efforts. However, because of Colorado’s fiscal crisis, no state money is provided for the program, which will have to rely on grants to get started.

Turnaround 2.0

McQueen outlines state intervention plans for 21 Memphis schools

Candice McQueen has been Tennessee's education commissioner since 2015 and oversaw the restructure of its school improvement model in 2017.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen has identified 21 Memphis schools in need of state intervention after months of school visits and talks with top leaders in Shelby County Schools.

In its first intervention plan under the state’s new school improvement model, the Department of Education has placed American Way Middle School on track either for state takeover by the Achievement School District or conversion to a charter school by Shelby County Schools.

The state also is recommending closure of Hawkins Mill Elementary School.

And 19 other low-performing schools would stay under local control, with the state actively monitoring their progress or collaborating with the district to design improvement plans. Fourteen are already part of the Innovation Zone, the Memphis district’s highly regarded turnaround program now in its sixth year.

McQueen outlined the “intervention tracks” for all 21 Memphis schools in a Feb. 5 letter to Superintendent Dorsey Hopson that was obtained by Chalkbeat.

Almost all of the schools are expected to make this fall’s “priority list” of Tennessee’s 5 percent of lowest-performing schools. McQueen said the intervention tracks will be reassessed at that time.

McQueen’s letter offers the first look at how the state is pursuing turnaround plans under its new tiered model of school improvement, which is launching this year in response to a new federal education law.

The commissioner also sent letters outlining intervention tracks to superintendents in Nashville, Chattanooga, Knoxville, and Jackson, all of which are home to priority schools.

Under its new model, Tennessee is seeking to collaborate more with local districts to develop improvement plans, instead of just taking over struggling schools and assigning them to charter operators under the oversight of the state-run Achievement School District. However, the ASD, which now oversees 29 Memphis schools, remains an intervention of last resort.

McQueen identified the following eight schools to undergo a “rigorous school improvement planning process,” in collaboration between the state and Shelby County Schools. Any resulting interventions will be led by the local district.

  • A.B. Hill Elementary
  • A. Maceo Walker Middle
  • Douglass High
  • Georgian Hills Middle
  • Grandview Heights Middle
  • Holmes Road Elementary
  • LaRose Elementary
  • Sheffield Elementary
  • Wooddale High

These next six iZone schools must work with the state “to ensure that (their) plan for intervention is appropriate based on identified need and level of evidence.”

  • Sheffield Elementary
  • Raleigh-Egypt High
  • Lucie E. Campbell Elementary
  • Melrose High
  • Sherwood Middle
  • Westwood High

The five schools below will continue their current intervention plan within the iZone and must provide progress reports to the state:

  • Hamilton High
  • Riverview Middle
  • Geeter Middle
  • Magnolia Elementary
  • Trezevant High

The school board is expected to discuss the state’s plan during its work session next Tuesday. And if early reaction from board member Stephanie Love is any indication, the discussion will be robust.

“We have what it takes to improve our schools,” Love told Chalkbeat on Friday. “I think what they need to do is let our educators do the work and not put them in the situation where they don’t know what will happen from year to year.”

Among questions expected to be raised is whether McQueen’s recommendation to close Hawkins Mill can be carried out without school board approval, since her letter says that schools on the most rigorous intervention track “will implement a specific intervention as determined by the Commissioner.”

Another question is why the state’s plan includes three schools — Douglass High, Sherwood Middle, and Lucie E. Campbell Elementary — that improved enough last year to move off of the state’s warning list of the 10 percent of lowest-performing schools.

You can read McQueen’s letter to Hopson below:

Mergers and acquisitions

In a city where many charter schools operate alone, one charter network expands

Kindergarteners at Detroit's University Prep Academy charter school on the first day of school in 2017.

One of Detroit’s largest charter school networks is about to get even bigger.

The nonprofit organization that runs the seven-school University Prep network plans to take control of another two charter schools this summer — the Henry Ford Academy: School for Creative Studies elementary and the Henry Ford Academy: School for Creative Studies middle/high school.

The move would bring the organization’s student enrollment from 3,250 to nearly 4,500. It would also make the group, Detroit 90/90, the largest non-profit charter network in the city next year — a distinction that stands out in a city when most charter schools are either freestanding schools or part of two- or three-school networks.

Combined with the fact that the city’s 90 charter schools are overseen by a dozen different charter school authorizers, Detroit’s relative dearth of larger networks means that many different people run a school sector that makes up roughly half of Detroit’s schools. That makes it difficult for schools to collaborate on things like student transportation and special education.

Some charter advocates have suggested that if the city’s charter schools were more coordinated, they could better offer those services and others that large traditional school districts are more equipped to offer — and that many students need.

The decision to add the Henry Ford schools to the Detroit 90/90 network is intended to “create financial and operational efficiencies,” said Mark Ornstein, CEO of UPrep Schools, and Deborah Parizek, executive director of the Henry Ford Learning Institute.

Those efficiencies could come in the areas of data management, human resources, or accounting — all of which Detroit 90/90 says on its website that it can help charter schools manage.

Ornstein and Parizek emphasized that students and their families are unlikely to experience changes when the merger takes effect on July 1. For example, the Henry Ford schools would remain in their current home at the A. Alfred Taubman Center in New Center and maintain their arts focus.  

“Any changes made to staff, schedule, courses, activities and the like will be the same type a family might experience year-to-year with any school,” they said in a statement.