"A Small School with Big Chances": The 21st Century Charter School at Gary

By Cummings, Amy; Hess, Frederick M. | AEI Paper & Studies, May 2019 | Go to article overview

"A Small School with Big Chances": The 21st Century Charter School at Gary


Cummings, Amy, Hess, Frederick M., AEI Paper & Studies


May 2019

Key Points

* The 21st Century Charter School at Gary (21C) represents a distinctive approach to bridging the high-school-to-college gap. While it is far too early to say whether it "works," this model of getting students on campus represents a promising strategy that few schools or systems are currently pursuing.

* 21C's program is unlike most college-credit programs in three key ways: (1) students take courses on college campuses, (2) there is no exclusive partnership between the high school and college, and (3) students are not limited to associate degrees.

* Between 2015 and 2018,173 21C graduates earned a cumulative of 1,720 college credits, 16 students graduated with an associate degree, and one graduated with a bachelor's degree. In 2019, nine students will earn associate degrees, and 66 graduating seniors will have earned 1,250 college credits.

Driving the streets of Gary, Indiana, one feels frustration and abandoned hope. Once the home of a thriving steel industry, Gary has suffered a fate familiar to Rust Belt cities: population loss, unemployment, crumbling infrastructure, and illiteracy. (1) Houses, restaurants, and schools are run-down and often shuttered.

Behind the former City Methodist Church--famous for its appearance in A Nightmare on Elm Street--sits the elementary building of the 21st Century Charter School at Gary (21C), a K-12 charter school and the flagship campus of the Greater Educational Opportunities (GEO) Foundation (Table 1). GEO is a small charter management organization, founded in 1998 by Kevin Teasley, which today operates five schools in Gary, Indiana, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

GEO focuses on increasing high schoolers' access to college. In this, GEO is similar to schools and systems across the land. Where it is distinctive, and worth a closer look, is how GEO is going about this.

Many schools now offer students the opportunity to earn college credit while in high school, with four in five US high schools offering college courses to students. In fact, 34 percent of students earn college credit while in high school. (2)

There are three basic ways schools do this. One is dual enrollment, in which courses simultaneously count for high school and college credit and are primarily taught at the high school by college-approved high school teachers. (3) According to US Department of Education data from the High School Longitudinal Study of 2009, 80 percent of the high schoolers earning college credit did so through dual enrollment.

A second approach, used by more than two million students a year, involves taking Advanced Placement (AP) courses, which offer the opportunity to earn college credit by passing an end-of-course exam. (4) A third approach, used much less often, consists of early college programs, in which students enroll in both high school and college courses to earn a high school diploma and college credit. (5)

Some research findings suggest that students who dual enroll in college courses are more likely to graduate high school, enroll in college, and complete a degree than are those who do not. (6) However, other research suggests these positive outcomes are limited to students who took courses on a college campus--just 5 percent of US high schoolers. (7)

What Is Distinctive About 21C's College Program

21 C's program represents a distinctive approach to bridging the high-school-to-college gap and incorporates elements of multiple college-credit models. While far from unique in offering students the opportunity to earn college credit, 21C's model of getting students on campus represents something few schools or systems are doing--but that many might like to emulate. 21C, unlike other schools offering similar opportunities, sees the on-campus element as central to its model because many of its students would be first-generation college students, and experiencing campus removes much of the mystery about college and offers students the opportunity to see themselves as "real college students. …

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