Good News in Columbus, Ohio – KnowledgeWorks Raises Graduation Rates

From the Columbus Dispatch, we’ve got some good news about success with the Ohio High School Transformation Initiative – thanks to the KnowledgeWorks Foundation.

Graduation rates improved from 62% to 82% and the graduation gap has narrowed. Perhaps the best news is not only that this model has positive effects, but that the Foundation says it’ll be cheaper to replicate.

Ohio High School Transformation Initiative

Program raises graduation rates

Poor districts succeed with smaller schools, rigorous classes

Wednesday, December 24, 2008 3:10 AM

By Catherine Candisky


More students in some of Ohio’s most impoverished school districts are earning high-school diplomas under an initiative focused on smaller schools, personalized instruction and rigorous curriculum.Those involved in the five-year-old Ohio High School Transformation Initiative say the results are significant and encouraging.

Since 2002, in the 35 participating high schools in eight districts:

• High-school graduation rates have increased from 62 percent to 82 percent.

• The graduation gap between participating schools and all Ohio high schools has narrowed by 77 percent.

• Passage rates for both reading and math on the Ohio Graduation Test improved, 89 percent of the districts reported.

“We now know how to transform failing high schools,” said Chad P. Wick, president and chief executive officer of the KnowledgeWorks Foundation, a Cincinnati-based organization which focused on education reform.

“We must apply what we now know towards ensuring all kids, regardless of their race or economic backgrounds, succeed in schools that help them succeed in life. No more excuses.”

Wick met last week with Gov. Ted Strickland, who will unveil an education-reform plan early next year, to discuss the effort. While the governor’s office declined to comment on the proposal, the relatively small price tag is a big plus as the state’s budget crisis threatens to undermine Strickland’s efforts.

KnowledgeWorks and other partners, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, invested $100 million to develop the high-school initiative, train teachers and launch a second effort aimed at getting more high-school graduates to continue on to college.

Wick said now that the models are in place, program costs will be minimal.

The initiative has focused on smaller schools, more autonomy for school administrators and teachers, personalized instruction and flexible schedules to allow students to spend more time as needed on difficult subjects.

Columbus school officials say the small-school concept led to improved performance among students at Brookhaven High School, the only school in the Columbus district participating in the initiative.

“We’ve learned a lot and it has worked well although we have not been able to fully implement it at Brookhaven as intended,” said Jeff Warner, spokesman for the Columbus City School District.

At Brookhaven, passage among first-time takers of the reading portion of the Ohio Graduation Test was 69 percent this year, up from 37 percent in 2004. That’s the highest jump of any participating school.

The smaller learning environment, Warner said, allows for improved relationships and understanding between students and teachers and more personalized instruction.

Harold D. Brown, executive director of EdWorks, a new affiliate of KnowledgeWorks focusing on high-school improvement, said it boils down to commitment and staying the course.

“We have shown that real improvements in student achievement are possible, even in our most distressed communities,” he said.

Partners, which include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, invested $100 million.

One Response to “Good News in Columbus, Ohio – KnowledgeWorks Raises Graduation Rates”

  1. Eric N. says:

    As Obama said on Tuesday, “The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works.” With that in mind, the Ohio High School Transformation Initiative’s “success” should be scrutinized further. I’m not sure whether the Initiative really works.

    The proclaimed success of New York City’s small schools has been undermined by Eduwonkette, who has focused on how NYC’s small schools enroll fewer ELL, special education, and low-income students than the average NYC high school, making “success” easier to come by.

    Beyond New York City, the Gates Foundation concluded in late 2008 that the small schools movement, as a whole, was unsuccessful. Gates said about his Foundation’s investment in small schools:
    “In the first four years of our work with new, small schools, most of the schools had achievement scores below district averages on reading and math assessments. In one set of schools we supported, graduation rates were no better than the statewide average, and reading and math scores were consistently below the average. The percentage of students attending college the year after graduating high school was up only 2.5 percentage points after five years. Simply breaking up existing schools into smaller units often did not generate the gains we were hoping for.”

    Finally, if the results of Ohio are exceptional and the Initiative “works” in the Buckeye State, then the cost of continued small school reform needs to be scrutinized further. Matt, you say it’ll be “cheaper to replicate,” but how does this reconcile with the redundancies of small schools, i.e., another principal, another payroll secretary, another senior trip to organize, etc.?

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