Wichita’s Learning Centers for dropouts and at-risk students part 1

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Apr 8, 2010

Full-time virtual chartered schools and state virtual schools that offer online supplemental classes to traditional schools led the first wave of growth in K-12 online learning. But increasingly districts are charging forward with offering online learning opportunities themselves, particularly in the areas of credit recovery and alternative schools for dropouts.

Innosight Institute Education Research Fellow Katherine Mackey’s latest case study captures a program in Wichita, Kansas that offers both—and funds both largely out of the same pool of funds. Indeed, the per-pupil program costs are over $7,000 less than the per-pupil cost of a regular student in Wichita Public Schools!

There are several other points in the case that catch my eye. The executive summary captures several of these; there are three on which I’ll comment briefly–one in this first part of my entry and two next week in the second part; and I would love people’s thoughts about the case study or similar examples you have seen.

My first thought centers around the locations for the learning centers: two of the sites for the alternative schools are in shopping malls. Locating the alternative programs away from schools was actually critical as dropouts would be reluctant to return to a traditional school setting that had failed them in the first place. Shopping malls and the like have another benefit I believe, which is that the spaces are professional. This gives students more of a feeling that what they are doing is valued, important, and real, and it sets a professional tone for how to act.

Next week I’ll offer some thoughts on (1) the data behind the program and the results and (2) the disruptive nature of the program.

Michael is a co-founder and distinguished fellow at the Clayton Christensen Institute. He currently works as a principal consultant for Entangled Solutions.