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December 7, 2012

“ABCs” Help Turn Around Failing Schools

Three years ago, Broadmoor Middle School in east Baton Rouge, Louisiana was on the brink of failure. The school, where 95 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced lunch, had a suspension rate of 50 percent, and roughly one in four students was failing.

These numbers were so troubling that the administration started to look for a way to turn things around. Rather than go with traditional turnaround models, the school decided to try a program called Diplomas Now.

Diplomas Now is a data-driven model that targets students who show early signs that they may drop out of high school later, and provide them with extra assistance. In addition to tracking test scores, Diplomas Now takes a comprehensive look at a student’s time in school, including tardiness, unexcused absences and misbehavior.

All of these factors, says Diplomas Now founder Professor Robert Balfanz, help academic and social care professionals “really map where the schools and where the kids are.”

The program then aims to use this data to improve the ABCs: attendance, behavior and course performance.

“We recognized a lot of kids needed daily nagging and nurturing,” Balfanz said. “Someone to say, ‘I am excited to see you in school today.’”

Broadmoor and other Diplomas Now schools get outside help from City Year, a national service organization, and Communities in Schools, a nonprofit that determines student needs and provides social services to address them. They work with students in and out of the classroom connect with students.

After three years with the program, Broadmoor Middle School has seen their suspension rate fall to 15 percent and their failure rate drop to 7 percent. However, some issues that keep students from succeeding occur outside the school; an area where teachers and volunteers cannot always help.

Warm up questions

1. What makes you want to come to school?

2. Does your school have any programs designed to keep kids in school?

3. How do you think your school’s graduation rate compares to others?

Discussion questions

1. Why is it important to get a high school diploma?

2. Do you know anyone who has dropped out of school? If so, why did they drop out?

3. Do you think more personalized attention will help keep kids from dropping out?

4. What other things do you think schools could do to keep kids in school?

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