Saving the Accelerated Schools

This afternoon, dozens of students, parents and educators in the city’s Accelerated Schools – programs serving students who have dropped out or are at risk of doing so – will testify at City Council about restoring their funding. Last Friday, the district announced that the schools would be closed, and replaced with district-run programs housed inside comprehensive high schools.¬†This is misguided for several reasons.

First, the Accelerated Schools address what may be the largest (in purely quantitative terms) need in the entire district. We have a huge population of out-of-school youth, many of whom will end up in the criminal justice system (at great cost to themselves and society) without significant support. We should be trying to figure out how to expand services to this population rather than cut back on them.

Second, the Accelerated Schools are one of the district’s success stories. Outcomes vary from program to program, but on average, students in the Accelerated Schools similar students who do not attend them. An impact analysis conducted by Mathematica Policy Research found that “collectively, accelerated schools demonstrate positive and statistically significant impacts on all¬†outcome measures considered in this study.” The study measured credit accumulation and graduation rates, among other outcomes. In a world where there is seldom clear-cut evidence what programs are effective, why do away with something that we know is working?

Third, the district has tried to serve these students in-house before, most recently through its twilight schools, with no real success. This is not to say it would be impossible for it to improve, but part of the strength of the current Accelerated Schools model is the diversity of approaches, and the schools’ responsiveness to the needs of students and communities. Such customization is not exactly the district’s strong suit.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, programs that serve out-of-school youth tend to be the most innovative high school models we have. They are more willing to step outside of conventional thinking about school organization, more inclined to take student engagement and relationships seriously, and more focused on the critical question of why students need to learn specific content. We have a lot to learn from these programs – lessons that should be incorporated into all of our high schools.

Thankfully, news of the elimination of these programs has sparked a groundswell of public support. To see how the students and families at El Centro de Estudiantes are responding, check out their blog:

Let’s hope these schools are given a chance to continue to do what they do best. They are sorely needed.