YES Prep Steps Up

Continuing an admirable and heartening trend in the charter space, Houston-based YES Prep charter schools yesterday released a probing analysis of its graduates’ postsecondary performance and the strategies it’s using to improve the same. The report documented some terrific results, while reflecting an equally impressive humility and commitment to getting better.  YES was founded in 1998 and today enrolls 8,000 students.

YES Prep has 1,650 alumni, of whom 76% have graduated from college or are currently enrolled in college. YES reports a six-year graduation rate of 41%, which is four times the national average for demographically similar students (97% of YES Prep students are Hispanic or African-American, and 90% would be first-generation college-goers). Among college-goers in the YES classes of 2010 to 2012, 87% have persisted to their sophomore year, compared to a national freshmen-to-sophomore persistence rate of 72%–regardless of ethnicity or income level. (Now, I’ve some general reservations about treating college-going or persistence as an unvarnished good, but I’m comfortable setting those aside when talking about these kids in this context.)

The report discusses the major elements of YES’s strategy to encourage college-going and persistence. In its early years, YES Prep focused on providing one-on-one support, exposing students to rigorous academics, and expanding access to scholarships and grants. When persistence and completion rates started to soften as YES grew in size, it revisited these strategies. Starting in 2006, YES began to focus on revising and expanding its “college initiatives” model, expanding and formalizing alumni support networks, collaborating with higher education institutions, and doing more to help students deal with questions of college cost and affordability. The report suggests that things are trending in the right direction, but also that YES still has much work ahead.

While YES’s results are noteworthy, it begins the report by proclaiming, “We are still not where we need to be, and we have learned some hard lessons along the way.” YES holds forth a goal of achieving a six-year graduation rate of 80%. That would be world-beating.

Especially in recent years, I’ve been struck by the willingness of some stellar charter operators to give themselves a hard look–reporting on their successes but vehemently insisting they’ve still got a long way to go. For what it’s worth, I find that combination of accomplishment, transparency, and humility immensely heartening.

-Rick Hess

This first appeared on Rick Hess Straight Up.

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