Fighting the Drop-Out Crisis

The July/August issue of Washington Monthly includes a special report, funded in part by a grant from Carnegie Corporation, entitled “Fighting the Drop-Out Crisis” which examines three large urban school districts—New York City, Philadelphia, and Portland, Oregon—that have worked strenuously in recent years to apply the new research to improve their chronically low graduation rates. The reports that have come back from the field give reason for qualified optimism.

The report on the New York City experience “Big Gains in the Big Apple” features the work of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s schools chancellor Joel Klein, an antitrust lawyer and old hand at breaking up monopolies. Bloomberg, who, the report writes, had wrested control of the city schools from the board of education, wanted someone willing to remake the dysfunctional school district.

The report details the City’s efforts, and in particular those of Klein, who, a day after he was appointed, phoned the woman who would lead the transformation. Michele Cahill was a program officer at the Carnegie Corporation of New York, and, at the time, she was running an experiment in New York City funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to replace large, struggling schools with small, more intimate schools. Klein told her he had a job for her in his reorganized education department as his senior counsel. The job came with a monumental assignment: raise New York’s four-year graduation rate by 20 percentage points. His goal was 70 percent—the same as the national average. Klein gave her one main instruction: “Be bold.”

Read “Big Gains in the Big Apple” and the complete Special Report.