Note: The information in this profile represents SY2010-11 unless otherwise indicated. 

School/organization overview

Name Wichita Public Schools
Type District
Locale Urban
Headquarters Wichita, Kansas
First year of operation
Grades served PreK-12
Enrollment 50,000
% FRL 50.4% (Learning Centers, SY2008-09)
% Black or Hispanic 42% (dropout recovery only, SY2008-09)
Per-pupil funding  $3,969 (Learning Centers, SY2008-09)

Blended-learning program

Name  Learning Centers
Focus Credit Recovery, Dropout Prevention/Recovery
Year launched
Enrollment 1361
Blended grades
Blended subjects
Math, English Language Arts, History/Social Studies, Science
Content Apex Learning
Independent LMS None
Independent grade book None
Independent assessment  None
Professional development 

Program model

Program model: Flex

Model description
Students attend a learning center in a storefront or office space, where they learn online with face-to-face teacher support. Other students make up credits in a computer lab on a traditional campus after traditional school hours, again with face-to-face teacher support.

Program background

History and context
Wichita Public Schools (Wichita), located in south central Kansas, is a large urban school district that serves a racially and socioeconomically diverse student population. With more than 50,000 students, it is one of the largest school districts in the Midwest and educates approximately 11 percent of all public school students in Kansas.

Wichita began contracting with Apex Learning during the 2007–08 school year to provide online courses to students enrolled in the Learning Centers, the district’s dropout-recovery and credit-recovery program. Previously, the program, which began in 1999, had used two different server-based computer programs for its curricula. In 2007, the program’s administrators decided to update the curricula and, in particular, switch from a server-based to an online curriculum. They believed that online courses would be cheaper and more convenient to maintain. After researching online options, they selected Apex Learning primarily because its courses were more rigorous than other online courses the district had tested and were aligned to state standards. During the 2008–09 school year, the Learning Centers program served 1,361 students in 3,257 enrollments.

Blended model
Dropout recovery
Wichita operates four dropout-recovery centers, which are located in storefront spaces at local malls and in office spaces at community centers. All of the centers are similarly designed with a large, open space divided into a variety of work areas, including individual study stations equipped with roughly 30 computers with headsets; tables for group study and project work; a sitting area with couches and lounge chairs for comfortable reading, one-on-one interaction with teachers, student discussions, and peer counseling; a resource center with instructional materials and career information; and an office space equipped with desks for the teachers.

Each dropout-recovery center employs two full-time, licensed teachers—one for English and social studies and another for mathematics and science—who grade essays and written assignments, monitor student progress, assist with coursework as needed, and make sure students stay on task. Each center also employs either a social worker or a student support staffer, who coordinates and arranges for various services such as mentoring, child care, transportation, meal vouchers, and housing.

Students generally take only one course at a time to help them focus on mastering the material rather than balancing too many courses at once. Once they have satisfied the district’s graduation requirements, the students receive a standard high school diploma—rather than a GED—from one of Wichita’s traditional high schools.

The program does not require student attendance during set hours each day. Instead, students may go to the centers at any time between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. on Mondays through Thursdays and between 8 a.m. and noon on Fridays. Although it gives students the flexibility to set their own schedules, the program requires them to complete at least a half credit each month and attend the centers for at least 15 hours per week to remain enrolled. Outside of these requirements, students are free to divide their study time between the dropout-recovery centers, where they have access to a teacher, and home. This flexibility allows students to work around their employment and family schedules—and it also enables the dropout-recovery centers to serve a greater number of students. During the 2008–09 school year, Wichita’s dropout-recovery centers helped 912 students complete 2,326 enrollments.

Credit recovery
Seven of the district’s 11 traditional high schools have credit-recovery centers located inside the school buildings where students can go after school to retake the courses they have failed. Each credit-recovery center consists of a room lined with rows of computers (there are roughly 30 computers in each center) and an office space with a desk for the teacher. One or two teachers who teach at the high school where the credit-recovery center is located take turns staffing the center after school in exchange for hourly pay.

The credit-recovery centers are open until 6 p.m. on Mondays through Fridays. Student attendance is not required during set days or hours. This flexibility allows students to work around their after-school activities and enables the centers to serve a greater number of students. To motivate students to finish their online courses, the district charges current high school students a fee of $75 per half-credit course (dropouts pay a yearly registration fee of $5), but offers at least 100 scholarships every year to students who cannot afford to pay the course fee. During the 2008–09 school year, Wichita’s credit-recovery centers helped 449 students complete 931 enrollments.

Notable results
Since the program’s founding in 1999, the four dropout-recovery centers have collectively helped 974 students that the traditional schools had failed earn their high school diplomas—or roughly 26 percent of the students they have so far served or are still in the process of serving.

The district’s graduation rate was still below the state average in 2006, but it had risen by more than eight percentage points since the Learning Centers program first began in 1999. An increase in the graduation rate of minorities had driven much of this, as graduation rates for African Americans had risen by 17.4 percentage points and Hispanics by 22.3 percentage points between 1999 and 2006.

One reason for this increase was undoubtedly the credit-recovery portion of the program, which allowed students who might have dropped out or failed to graduate on time because they were missing credits to recover these courses and graduate. Another reason was the additional graduates from the dropout-recovery centers, which accounted for roughly a percentage point increase in any given year in the district’s graduation rate.

Unlike other schools in the district, the program does not require, nor does it receive, any portion of district funds obtained from property taxes. This means that the program is significantly less expensive to operate on a per-pupil basis than traditional schools in the district. For example, even if one considers all of the costs—operating and capital—of the Learning Centers program during the 2008–09 school year, the cost per dropout-recovery student was roughly $3,969—or approximately $7,721 less than the district’s per-pupil expenditure for the 2008–09 school year. This number does not take into account that the program also served 449 credit-recovery students during the 2008–09 school year, which means that the program’s true costs per student were even lower.

On the horizon
Wichita does not plan to expand the Learning Centers program, and it recently decided to close one of the dropout-recovery centers. The state’s new graduation formula only counts students who graduate in four years, so district leaders believe the district will earn a higher Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) status if they focus resources on students who fall within their four-year cohort at the comprehensive high schools, rather than invest in students who are taking more than four years to graduate.


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