Dropout Reengagement Surges in Washington State

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With a May 20 statewide meeting among representatives of 88 school districts, community colleges, community-based organization partners, and the City of Seattle, Washington State surged into new prominence in the national dropout reengagement field. In one way, Washington stands in a place of its own, since the passage of Washington House Bill 1418 and the establishment of the Open Doors Youth Reengagement system in state policy.

In a manner similar to the presence of multiple city- and district-wide reengagement programs in Colorado and New Jersey, Open Doors launched its first three local programs in 2012-13, and each is generating successes for local youth and lessons for other aspiring programs. May 20 meeting attendees gleaned those lessons and met in teams to consider the opportunity to join the statewide program network.

Notably, and somewhat distinct from dropout reengagement approaches in other states, Washington State’s Open Doors programs combine the dropout outreach and assessment functions with alternative education on site.  Open Doors programs must offer academic instruction, case management, counseling, resource and referral services, and the opportunity to enroll in college courses tuition-free if the program provider is a college.  Sue Furth, program coordinator, noted that financial motivation can match the drive for youth development: a state cost study found $250 million savings to public coffers, per 600 reengaged former dropouts.  With more than 30,000 students coded as dropped out over the past three years, statewide, the total savings from effective, scaled-up reengagement could become huge.

The three initial Open Doors Reengagement Programs differ in their sponsorship, consistent with the policy framework, which allows school districts to enter into interlocal agreements with a qualifying organization.

  • GRAVITY High School operated by Education Service District 113 represents a consortium model involving 25 school districts and more than 220 students in a large region southwest of Seattle.
  • The Kent School District operates iGRAD in partnership with Green River Community College, in the South Puget Sound area.  iGRAD offers three high school diploma options — students can earn a diploma from the Kent district, the state, or a GED — at its convenient location in a shopping mall.  Green River CC professors teach GED courses four days per week.  iGRAD offers classes in three different segments during the day — morning, afternoon, and evening, and also offers classes online.  Currently iGRAD serves 500 students, plans call for the program to double in size soon.
  • The Gateway to College program at Lake Washington Institute of Technology also qualified as one of the first three Open Doors programs, the only one directly operated by a technical college.  The Institute has developed interlocal agreements with 23 school districts to operate as what Washington State calls an accredited special purpose high school. Some 200 on-track students may enroll in the Institute directly.  Another 200 start in Gateway to College.  Regardless, students experience hands-on technical training, and dual credit earning opportunities. Gateway students receive more intensive case management. Students may earn one of three types of diplomas – a regular high school diploma, an adult high school diploma, or a diploma simultaneous with an Associate’s Degree (via Washington HB 1758).  To date, the Institute is seeing 60% fall-to-fall persistence.

The first three programs – which Washington’s Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction hopes will soon be joined by others — also exemplify a comment that state superintendent Randy Dorn made at the meeting.  Noting that the statewide extended graduation rate (4-, 5-, and 6-year graduations) is 80%, “the next 5% will cost more, and will require a relationship.”