Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel Paper: Making Change via Whole School Reform: Findings from the National Diplomas Now Experiment

Saturday, November 14, 2015 : 1:45 PM
Japengo (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

William Corrin, Rachel Rosen and Susan Sepanik, MDRC
Although high school graduation rates have steadily increased over the past decade, one in five students still does not complete high school within four  years (Murnane, 2013).  However, even if this upward trend continues, the students who still fail to graduate will increasingly represent those facing the greatest barriers to earning a diploma, including those requiring additional academic and social supports to finish high school.  Those who don’t graduate will also be increasingly concentrated in, and more likely to be products of, low-income urban high schools. 

At the same time, research suggests that factors such as poor attendance, poor behavior, and course failure measured as early as middle school are strong  predictors of students’ likelihood of dropping out. (Balfanz, Herzog, & Mac Iver, 2007). Additional evidence indicates that success in ninth grade is critical to predicting graduation (Allensworth & Easton, 2005). Combined, these findings suggest that programs targeted toward off-track middle school students, as well as at high schools with high dropout rates, may be successful in addressing root causes of dropout, and keep more students on track from the earlier secondary grades. 

Three national organizations, Talent Development Secondary, City Year and Communities in Schools, partnered to create the Diplomas Now whole-school reform model , seeking to transform secondary schools in high poverty urban areas through a combination of faculty and student supports designed to increase student attendance, decrease suspensions and expulsions, and increase student pass rates in core academic subjects.  The model employs a comprehensive reform strategy aimed at transforming the academic experience of all students through a tiered system of structural and curricular change,  professional development, an early warning indicator data system to identify at-risk students, and a team of auxiliary staff that provides extra academic and social supports during and after school.

This paper presents findings from the national i3 evaluation of Diplomas Now, conducted as a randomized-controlled trial involving 62 schools (33 middle and 29 high schools) in 11 large and midsize urban districts. The findings include “service contrast” results that identify how Diplomas Now implementation changed school learning environments, faculty access to professional development and coaching, and availability of student supports, as well as information about fidelity of model implementation.  To our knowledge, this evaluation represents one of the first experimental tests of a nationally-scaled whole-school reform model in comprehensive urban secondary schools. 

Allensworth, E. M., & Easton, J. Q. (2005). The on-track indicator as a predictor of high school graduation. Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research, University of Chicago.

Balfanz, R., Herzog, L., & Mac Iver, D. J. (2007). Preventing student disengagement and keeping students on the graduation path in urban middle-grades schools: Early identification and effective interventions. Educational Psychologist, 42(4), 223-235.

Murnane, R. J. (2013). US high school graduation rates: Patterns and explanations. National Bureau of Economic Research.

Full Paper: