Washington’s Academies to Split First-Time Freshmen from Repeaters

A proposal by Washington D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson is bringing big changes to the 9th grade in the city’s high schools. Henderson’s plan calls for the creation of two different education tracks: one for incoming freshmen just beginning their high school experience, and one for those who failed 9th grade at least once and must repeat it.

Emma Brown of The Washington Post reports that the new approach is meant to ensure that students who are being left back cannot influence the attitude of those who are beginning high school for the very first time. According to Henderson, this is the only way to make certain that new freshmen maintain their enthusiasm for academics in the face of older students’ growing disengagement.

Henderson also noted that those who are repeating 9th grade require a different instructional approach than those who are taking the courses for the first time. The answer to this problem are new “ninth-grade academies,” schools-within-schools that have grown popular in large urban high schools. These academies, which will open their doors at 9 schools throughout the city this fall, will provide additional support for those transitioning from middle school to high school.

The academy, however, is a one-shot-only business. Those who have failed 9th grade in the past are not eligible.

Officials say they are still hammering out plans for those “repeater” students, raising concerns among some advocates that the school system doesn’t know how to effectively educate such students and is perhaps setting them up for additional failure.

Cathy Reilly, executive director of the Senior High Alliance of Parents, Principals and Educators, said officials must craft a comprehensive strategy for changing the trajectory of its failing students.

“They are a huge contingent of who’s in the high schools, the kids who are failing,” Reilly said. “You don’t want those kids to feel that they’re not part of the school. You don’t want them to feel like castoffs.”

Students who have been left back will follow a different academic path. DC education officials are considering so-called “twilight academies” which offer classes after the regular school day is completed to allow repeaters to catch up to their peers. Students repeating 9th grade will also have access to evening credit recovery programs which will be offered in addition to their regular day classes.

And many might be headed for alternative schools. Henderson says she will be more aggressive about removing overage, credit-short students from neighborhood schools and assigning them to programs, such as the city’s two STAY schools for adult learners, that can provide a different and perhaps more successful path to graduation.