Philanthropist Bill Gates recently highlighted Chicago’s Network for College Success, which uses the “Freshmen-On-Track” metric to identify struggling students and keep them on the path to graduation, Chalkbeat reports. Gates, whose foundation is now investing in “networks” of schools, hopes to use this tracking system as a model in other schools.
The metric began at the University of Chicago’s Consortium on School Research and spread throughout the city. The system was derived from Harper High Principal Elizabeth Dozier’s attempts to improve dropout rates by focusing on 9th-grade success.
To Gates, Chicago’s increasing graduation rates and test scores are a testament to the success achieved by the efforts to cull the information. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has donated $92 million so far to networks that assist schools in utilizing that data.
In his blog, Gates advocates the use of data that can catch struggling 9th-graders early, while they still have time to get on a better path to graduation. The importance of 9th grade has long been on Gates' radar. His foundation previously featured the issue in its publication, discussing why that year can be particularly challenging.
Research suggests that whether a student graduates from high school depends on how they do in their freshmen year. Elaine Allensworth, director of the University of Chicago's Consortium on School Research, explains in the post that the transition can put a lot of stress on students. They take on more responsibility and often have less supervision and support. Course failures in 9th grade decrease by 30% the chances that students will graduate.
That figure is important, not only for the student and his or her family, but for the community at large. Another study showed that the lifetime benefit of a high school graduate adds $500,000 to the local economy.
Interestingly, the pressure put on 9th-graders may have been intentional when high schools programs were designed a century ago. Camille Farrington of the University of Chicago, analyzed the reasons for 9th grade failures in her book, “Failing At School.” In the book she suggested that the current high school model has not changed much over the last 100 years. Back then, the high school system was designed to weed out those who could not keep up academically.
Times have drastically changed. Today, a high school diploma is no longer a sufficient requirement for many professions. Finding ways to keep students on track to graduate is necessary so they can continue their education beyond high school.