Four million 6 year olds are entering kindergarten this year. They will be the class of 2025, indicating their expected graduation date from high school. So what do the statistics say about their future?
Statistical analysis predicts that 30 percent of these students will not graduate from high school in 2025. One in five of these children currently live in poverty. This number is rising, leaving children in situations that can lead to diminished opportunities to learn and succeed in school. The class of 2025 will reflect how America is becoming a true "melting pot" of diversity. In 2011, more than 50 percent of babies born in America were non-Caucasian. This situation combined with increased numbers of immigrants entering the U.S., especially from Spanish speaking nations and Asia, has led to 1 in 20 school children currently struggling with English. Courses to help develop each individual's English-speaking and written abilities will be needed to address this challenge of a diverse society.
Developing each child's reading abilities will be paramount to their educational achievement. Recent studies by the National Assessment of Educational Progress found that 66 percent of all fourth graders read below their grade level expected abilities. Studies show that if they fall behind in reading proficiency by fourth grade, it is difficult for them to "catch up" in later grades and indicates an increased chance of dropping out of school as they move on in school.
Charter schools were invented in Minnesota 20 years ago. Last year 4 percent of the public school students in the U.S., 2 million children, attended one of 5,600 charter schools. Before Hurricane Katrina, the New Orleans school system was suffering from poor educational performance. After Katrina hit the area seven years ago, a first ever Recovery School District was created to take over and rebuild the failing schools. Based on performance of the charter schools they controlled, the RSD converted all of the schools they controlled into charter schools.
The advantage of the RSD model and charter schools included: the RSD had the freedom to choose any school operator without political challenges, charters were accountable for their student's academic performance, schools managed their own budgets including hiring/firing/rewarding their own staffs, schools created high expectations/high motivation/relentless focus on data school cultures and schools worked with organizations like Teach For America and New Schools for New Orleans to hire and develop high quality principals and teachers.
The results of the RSD network of charter schools? In 2011, 51 percent of students tested at or above grade level expectations (23 percent did in 2007). In 2000, less than 20 percent of New Orleans school graduates went on to college, and less than 8 percent graduated from college. In 2011, five of the RSD's eight high schools had all of their graduating students accepted to college. The college acceptance rates of the other three schools were 88, 83 and 42 percent.
The New Orleans Recovery School District is a unique operational model that maximizes the impact of charter schools in educating students. The diversity of the class of 2025 will have present unique challenges and opportunities to each school. The RSD offers schools proven successful initiatives to ensure the achievements of the class of 2025 exceeds its predicted performance.
Editor's note: Steve Patchin is the director of the Center for Pre-College Outreach at Michigan Technological University.