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Curing the High School Dropout Epidemic

Back to the Future
teen dropouts
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Nick Higgins

For those who have left the classroom, it's not too late. That's the message the Los Angeles Unified School District has been sending out—literally—via Twitter, texts, YouTube and radio ads to out-of-school youth between the ages of 16 and 25 to lure them back to school. (Sample tweet: Did U know high school graduates earn an average of $175 more per week than dropouts? Get your diploma!) Since many dropouts are loath to sit side by side with students who are two, three, or more years younger, a solution may be programs like AdvancePath, which runs self-contained "academies" on high school campuses. "It doesn't make sense to put people back in the exact same environment where they failed," says AdvancePath Chairman John Murray.

Instead, the classrooms look more like giant computer labs, but with carpeting, and art on the walls. Students sign up for a four-hour shift—morning, afternoon, or evening—which they attend five days a week, and work their way through online courses and tests at their own pace. If they're stymied, they can always click a few steps back. And they're supervised by teachers willing to answer questions one-on-one or in small groups. Since 2006, about 2,000 kids, mostly in California, have been enrolled in AdvancePath; among the 900 who have graduated (about 200 have dropped out, and the rest continue to plug away toward their diplomas), 40 percent have gone on to some form of post-secondary education, be it a vocational program, community college, or university, says Murray. "What they've earned," he adds, "is a second chance at success."