In the fall of 1999, Wichita Public Schools launched a dropout-recovery and credit-recovery program, called the Learning Centers, in response to the district’s low graduation rate. The program used a disruptive innovation—computer-based learning—to enable high school dropouts of all ages to work toward earning high school diplomas and current high school students to make up lost credits so they could graduate.
By 2010, the district was operating four dropout-recovery centers and seven credit-recovery centers. The program served 946 students in 3,904 half-credit courses and had a waiting list of more than 300 students during the 2008–09 school year.
The program serves two distinct groups of people who would otherwise be nonconsumers.* The first consists of adults and youth who dropped out of school for a variety of reasons and previously had no options to earn high school diplomas. The majority are between ages 18 and 21, but adults up to the age of 60 also enroll. The second consists of students still enrolled in high school who failed a course and previously had no convenient or timely way to retake it, which hurt their chances of graduating on time.
The program uses a hybrid model, which combines elements of virtual learning and a traditional classroom setting. Students complete computer-based courses at dropout-recovery and credit- recovery centers under the direction of certified teachers. The program does not follow a daily class schedule. Instead, students may go to the centers to work on their courses at any time during the hours of operations.
Computer-based courses are the primary source of the learning content, which is advantageous for several reasons as it:
• Allows students to learn at their own pace and preferred time;
• Permits students to enroll or finish the program at any time during the year and not follow a traditional school calendar;
• Offers students a wide range of courses and course levels without requiring a dedicated teacher for each level and subject;
• Enables the use of a mastery-based curriculum that ensures students are learning as they progress through a course;
• Provides rapid, unbiased feedback that allows teachers to intervene as soon as students begin struggling with a concept.
The computer-based curriculum frees teachers from lesson planning and lecturing so that they can spend the bulk of their time providing students with individualized help with coursework on a need-by-need basis. Teachers also are responsible for making sure students stay on task and for grading essays and written assignments.
In disruptive fashion, the program is significantly less expensive per student than traditional schools in the district. It receives only state per-pupil funding for dropout-recovery students, state at-risk funding for students who are eligible to receive free or reduced-price lunches, registration and tuition fees, and some outside grants. It does not receive state funds for credit-recovery students, nor does it receive district funds obtained from property taxes for any students. During the 2008–09 school year, the program cost roughly $7,307 less than the district’s per-pupil expenditure for the 2007–08 school year, the latest year for which this data was available.**
The district’s graduation rate has risen by more than eight percentage points since the program first began in 1999. According to the district’s numbers, an increase in the graduation rate of minorities has driven much of this increase.
The four dropout-recovery centers have collectively helped 974 students earn their high school diplomas since 1999. During the 2008–09 school year, the mean adjusted graduation rate*** for the dropout-recovery centers was 81 percent. However, 38 percent of the students enrolled in dropout-recovery centers withdrew for a variety of reasons before earning high school diplomas that year.
*Nonconsumers are people who are not consuming the existing products or services in a market because of such barriers as cost, inconvenience, inaccessibility, or complexity.
**According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the per-pupil expenditure for Wichita Public Schools was $11,186 for the 2007–08 school year.
***To determine the adjusted graduation rate, the district divides the number of probable graduates (students are counted as probable graduates if earning a half credit per month combined with entry credits would allow them to accumulate 22 credits by the end of the academic year) by the total number of students enrolled in the center.