The longer students are in high school, the more likely they are to report feeling disengaged from school. According to the Gallup Student Poll, around two-thirds overall say they are “not engaged” or “actively disengaged.”
No doubt, some of this disengagement is due to general adolescent malaise. But it also reflects the disconnect young people feel between their high school experience, preparing for a career and the next steps to post-secondary education or a job.
Some forward-thinking charter schools are spearheading strategies that provide a newfound freedom to school district leaders, educators and charter school founders that liberates them from hindersome bureaucratic regulations (perhaps well-intended but unhelpful in practice) so they can develop innovative program models and school options that put students first and aim to overcome that disconnect.
Innovators within the charter sector are using this freedom to design new educational pathways for young people that lead to in-demand, living wage 21st century jobs and careers.
These pathways include apprenticeships, internships and career and technical education; dual enrollment in high school and post-secondary institutions, including job placement and training; career academies; boot camps that focus on acquiring discreet knowledge or skills; staffing and placement services; and income share agreements, allowing students to repay tuition after acquiring a good paying job.
Here are two prominent examples.
Da Vinci Schools, a Los Angeles-area charter school created in 2009 by the Wiseburn School District, is a partnership between the district and charter school. It serves 2,100 students in grades K-16 from 108 zip codes and includes four high schools, a K-8 home school-hybrid model, a post-secondary college and career program and a training institute. Ninety-eight percent of its students graduate from high school meeting the admission requirements for the University of California system.
Da Vinci has more than 100 business and nonprofit partners that offer internships, mentorships, workshops, boot camps, project consultancies and other student engagement programs. Student services to partners include website and social media design, graphic design and youth marketing focus groups.
The Da Vinci Extension program integrates high school, college, careers, and student services like mental health and counseling. Students—some working—have two pathways to further education, including associate or bachelor’s degrees via classroom and online instruction. One pathway is through UCLA Extension and El Camino College, with no cost to students. The other pathway is College for America, affiliated with Southern New Hampshire University. It costs about $6,000 but can be subsidized by Pell Grants and local funding. At both programs, students access tutoring, advising and teacher support through Da Vinci.
Across the country in Boston, Match Education comprises several education initiatives, including Match Schools, The Charles Sposato Graduate School of Education and Match Export. Match Public Charter School was founded in 1999 and enrolls 1,250 students in grades pre-K to 12 across three campuses. The Sposato School awards Master’s in Effective Teaching degrees for those learning the teaching methods used in Match Schools.
Match Beyond was launched in 2014 as an outgrowth of Match Charter High School, focused on helping graduates with career placement and college completion. Like Da Vinci, Match partnered with College For America. CFA provided instructional services and Match offered student coaching and other support programs, including job counseling.
In 2018, Match Beyond was renamed Duet, becoming an independent nonprofit. It has a close relationship with Match, using its facility for study space and its staff for student coaching and mentoring. Duet allows students to work, offering associate and bachelor’s degrees through Southern New Hampshire University. The cost is $7,000 per year. Financial aid is available.
This focus on student engagement allows young people to make a connection between school and work, education and career.
The program includes comprehensive career services for up to two years after graduation, including resume development, interview preparation, job searches and support for navigating the hiring process. Southern New Hampshire associate and bachelor’s degrees powered by Duet have been awarded to 147 individuals.
These and similar programs exemplify what author Ryan Craig, in A New U, calls “faster and cheaper” pathways to 21st century jobs and careers than are possible at traditional post-secondary institutions. They use the charter school strategy to design these programs, placing student engagement at the center of their designs.
This focus on student engagement allows young people—with the assistance of classroom educators and workforce mentors—to make a connection between school and work, education and career. It also prepares them to make a better-informed decision about their next step, after high school, to some form of post-secondary education or a job.