Did you know that students from low-income families are five times more likely to drop out of high school than their high-income counterparts?
Enter New Dawn. Our students graduate, despite this troubling statistic. As an alternative school that also operates as a public charter school, New Dawn represents the potential that every student in this country should have: a second chance at a quality education.
My students have attempted almost four years of high school, and in some cases more, before even walking in our doors. Imagine a student going to school every day for the entirety of their high school careers only to fail it, and then after having established some kind of relationship with their peers and teachers, be asked to leave because they won’t graduate on time.
However, schools like ours are often placed on “priority status,” based largely on the fact that our students often fail to graduate in four years. Even though New Dawn outperforms its cohort on the New York City School Quality Report and we graduate more kids every year, we are still measured only by how many students graduate in the typical four years.
Schools across the country that serve the at-risk student population report the same data that New Dawn reports. It is so disheartening to look at the transcripts of the young men and women as they enter our school, full of failure and horrible scheduling. Multiple failed New York State Regents attempts. Lack of self-confidence and depression.
Judging alternative schools by such a standard is a disservice to all of us fighting to educate these “at-risk” kids across the country, students who are over-aged and under-credited, but are still seeking a path to graduation. Many schools like mine are on the verge of being closed, not because they are failing to help students to this goal, but because they’re being measured by a false standard.
A Smarter Way to Judge Alternative Schools
Luckily, New Dawn has been working with the New York State Education Department to develop a better understanding of the data that will tell the right story about the great work our kids do. We’re looking at creating differentiated measures of accountability—for instance, using a seven-year graduation rate for at-risk teens, to better gauge the work being done with these students.
Much is at stake, since every student’s accessibility to an equitable, quality education is the hands of policymakers. And New York is not alone in this. Every state is currently preparing to turn in its school accountability plans to the U.S. Department of Education under the new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).
This challenge will be even greater under the new presidential administration, and I’m concerned that a lack of oversight and support at the federal level will serve to exacerbate inequities like these. In New York, we are fortunate to have a willing partner in our state’s education department, but what about elsewhere? What about the two-student alternative school in rural Wyoming? Who advocates for those kids and institutions?
The Trump education department—including Betsy DeVos, if confirmed—has the opportunity to unite this country on positive education reform that provides equity and access to all students, not just the ones with privilege behind them.
It is the duty of this nation to serve all students, even those who need a second chance.