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Report Examines YES Prep Charter School Strategies

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The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation has released a report detailing the policies and practices of the foundation's 2012 Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools winner—the YES Prep Public Schools.

YES Prep operates a network of 11 middle and high charter schools in Houston. Since the network began in 1998, all of its seniors have graduated from high school and been accepted into four-year colleges or universities, according to the report. Seventy-two percent of YES Prep alumni, 80 percent of whom are classified as low-income, are enrolled in college or have earned their degrees. Nationally, less than a quarter of low-income students finish college.

Ninety-five percent of the YES Prep student population is Hispanic or African-American.

The report aimed to highlight best practices implemented by the charter school network in order to replicate the results in charter and regular public schools. The authors divided the strategies into five categories:

1. Academics: YES Prep aligns its curriculum to Advanced Placement standards, gauging what to teach students in 6th grade based on what they need to know in order to pass AP exams by the time they are in 12th grade. All grade levels are tested three times per year to make sure students are on track. YES Prep also employs longer school days. (School days extend past 4 p.m., and teachers are on call until 9pm to help with homework or other assignments.) In addition, students are enrolled in double periods of language arts and math instruction.

2. Staff: Teachers at YES Prep have time for professional development every Wednesday when schools dismiss early, as well as eight days a year when students stay home so that teachers from all the YES Prep schools can come together and collaborate. Most administrators are homegrown in the network, starting their careers as YES Prep teachers.

3. Character education: Qualities such as persistence and integrity are emphasized throughout students' time at YES Prep schools. Students are required to complete community service.

4. College-going culture: Over 90 percent of the 6,700 students in Yes Prep's 11 schools will be the first in their families to go to college, so the schools provide courses in every year of high school that teach students how to apply to colleges and what to look for in potential schools. Students also begin touring colleges in 6th grade. All students are required to apply to at least eight four-year colleges, and YES Prep leaders have partnered with 24 colleges that have agreed to give special consideration to qualified YES Prep students.

5. Alumni support: Staff members at the school keep in touch with YES Prep alumni to support them as they transition into postsecondary education. The network maintains a scholarship fund for alumni, and 13 colleges designate YES Prep college upperclassmen alums as mentors to help support current college students from YES Prep schools. These "fellows" receive about $1,000 in scholarship money and a class in leadership in exchange for their support.

While some of the findings from the report provide a glimpse into different techniques that could be used in regular public schools, others may be harder to replicate on a large-scale, such as extending the school day. (Of course, it should be noted that some traditional public schools take pride in emphasizing strategies similar to those listed above, in professional development, character education, and other areas.) Which—if any—aspects of YES Prep do you think could realistically be applied to large number of regular public schools?

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