Monday, July 28, 2008

Working your way through high school

Reason Magazine's August/September issue has a feature article on a private school in Chicago that caters to disadvantaged minorities where students work a few days a month to cover the greater part of their tuition. Here's how it works, basically:

At the 19 schools in the network (three new ones are opening this fall in Brooklyn, Detroit, and the west side of Chicago), four-student teams share entry-level clerical jobs at area employers. In exchange, these companies pay the schools $20,000 to $30,000 for each team. The subsidy of $5,000 to $7,500 per student keeps tuition low enough (usually around $2,500) that a prep school education becomes feasible for poor families.

And the results are encouraging:

These start-ups are all committed to enrolling only low-income kids; network-wide, 72 percent of students qualify for the federal free or reduced-price lunch program. The schools are also committed to sending the vast majority of their graduates to college; of the 318 students who graduated from Cristo Rey Network schools in 2007, 316 were accepted to a two- or four-year college. That’s better than 99 percent. (Nationwide, just 67 percent of students who graduate from high school start college shortly thereafter, and in big cities that figure can be much lower. Chicago Mayor Richard Daley held a press conference last spring to boast that the Chicago public schools had sent almost half of the class of 2007 to two- or four-year colleges.)

The article recognizes that "[s]ociologists have long pointed to systems of free, compulsory public schools as the international gold standard," but that in light of piss-poor graduation rates and educational quality at many American public schools, the Cristo Rey method seems pretty appealing. And surely the idea would have gained traction a lot earlier (well, it actually did) if it weren't for the competition from free, subsidized public schools.

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