Donnell-Kay Projects: Jobs for the Future & Denver Public Schools Team Up For Alt Ed
Denver Public Schools (DPS) now has a clearer road map for reducing the number of potential high school dropouts. The Boston-based nonprofit Jobs for the Future (JFF) partnered with the school district to figure out how to help students reach graduation.
In DPS, about 8,100 students were off-track to graduation in the 2009-2010 school year (42 percent of the grade 9-12 population).
JFF’s experts know of some of the best ways to address the off-track population, and officials there say that national efforts to help these students are already showing promising outcomes. The organization’s mission is to double the number of low-income youth and adults who attain postsecondary credentials by 2020, with the help of partners like DPS. JFF has consulted with a number of school districts (Boston and Philadelphia) about the best ways to educate students needing additional support and options to graduate. JFF’s work in Denver happened over the course of a few months, with financing through a grant from the Donnell-Kay Foundation.
A recent Strategic Regional Analysis presented to the Denver School Board shows there are gaps in the city’s alternative education programs. This data – and the proposed solutions – are part of JFF’s work with DPS to bring a national perspective to the local drop-out problem.
“What we’ve learned from the research nationally is that [the off-track students are] a differentiated population. Students who are older and significantly behind in skills and credits need a different school design than those who are older but fairly close to graduation, for example,” says Lili Allen, program director with JFF.
In the case of DPS, nearly half of the off-track students are more than 60 credits behind. There’s a big age difference among the students who are off-track to graduation. About a third of them are about 16 years old and two or more years behind in school; about a third is over the age of 18 and need less than two years’ credit to graduate. Those older students likely need a different education setting than the younger ones, and JFF suggested DPS take a regional approach serve these students with hugely different academic needs.
JFF also is examining the current policies and practices in the district around instructional capacity, human capital development, financing, data, governance and accountability. DPS is considering the proposed policy changes and will work with the school board and the community to develop school options for the off-track population.
The Donnell-Kay Foundation (DKF) will continue to work with Denver Public Schools on the off-track population of students. With Associate Director Kim Knous-Dolan taking the lead, DKF has also funded Colorado Youth for a Change (CYC), a front range nonprofit that helps students at risk of dropping out. Since the dropout population is highly mobile – often moving in and out of area districts, CYC plans to do a similar analysis with metro area districts in the next year, to serve dropouts in a more coordinated and effective manner.