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In the 1980s, many corporations adopted schools in cities where they had offices. In Houston, Tenneco started providing mentors,
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tutors, and special courses for Davis High School, the worst in the city, in 1981. In 1983, Tenneco added college scholarships for students who graduated with average grades or above, plus Communities in Schools (CIS), a national program that counsels students with family and personal problems that distract them from schoolwork. In 1989, the Houston Endowment joined in, as a sponsor of summer classes that help scholarship hopefuls prepare for college. From 1983, when the scholarships began, to 1992, college enrollment by Davis graduates rose from 20 to 81. On the one hand, a fourfold increase can be seen as good results. On the other hand, 600 students started at Davis in grade 9, so 81 still meant that fewer than 15 percent made it to college. And 425 of the students 70 percent dropped out before graduation from grade 12. They dropped out because they arrived at high school so far behind that they could never catch up. It was just too late. The problem started way back in elementary and middle school. In 1992, James Ketelsen retired as CEO of Tenneco. Instead of leaving Davis behind, he and his wife, Kathryn, set up shop in their garage. At this point, there was still nothing remarkable about Davis many other adopt-a-school programs had had similar results. But then Ketelsen did a remarkable thing: He looked upstream from Davis to the six elementary and middle schools that fed into it, and asked the question, What works That is, were there existing programs elsewhere that showed success in turning around failing elementary and middle schools Ketelsen set out on a treasure hunt for programs to add to the scholarships, summer classes, and CIS. Over the next year, he found three that showed convincing success: Success for All (SFA), Consistency Management and Cooperative Discipline (CMCD), and Move it Math (MIM). SFA we ve already met, as one of the single strands of proven success in Schor s book. Ketelsen picked it up, to weave in with other strands. For CMCD, evaluations showed good results in solving the discipline problem in schools. MIM was riskier: There were no evaluations yet. But nationwide, there was no successful math program that Ketelsen could use. So he observed MIM in
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action and saw good results in the classrooms he studied. Thus, MIM joined the list. Each program came with an existing support system of professionals who already knew what to do. Like SFA, CIS had a national organization that was ready to go. For CMCD, there was a small group at the University of Houston. For MIM, there was the husband-wife team who had developed it. In August 1993, Ketelsen brought the leaders of the four programs together at a working lunch in downtown Houston. He asked them in detail whether and how the different programs might mesh. All four gave thumbs up. And so was born Project GRAD, for Graduation Really Achieves Dreams. The Ketelsens served as coordinators and problem solvers for bringing the three programs to the Davis feeder that is, the high school plus the six lower schools that fed into it. SFA and CMCD asked teachers to vote on whether they wanted to bring the program to their school, so Ketelsen adopted the same practice for all the GRAD components. Six of the seven schools voted yes in the first year. The seventh school came on board in the second year. By year three, the early results convinced Ketelsen to establish a nonprofit organization to run the program. He raised funds and hired an executive director, who in turn hired a coordinating staff. In 1997, a professor at the University of Houston, Dr. K. A. Opuni, evaluated GRAD. The results were outstanding: Both math and reading scores and high school graduation rates had increased on average by more than half. And the costs were moderate: about 5 percent of the total school budget.10 At that point, GRAD stood out as perhaps America s most successful model for turning around failing public schools. Other programs had had good results in a single school, or had had good results in many schools, but at high cost. GRAD had scale, moderate cost, and, above all, strong results. Since 1997, GRAD has spread to four more feeders in Houston and to eight other cities across the country. In 2001, GRAD set up a separate national organization, GRAD-USA, to help new cities bring GRAD to their schools. The federal budget in 2001 and 2002 included funding for GRAD. Today there are more than 100,000
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