No Magic Needed

A school in Baltimore, with 33% more special education students than the district average, has a dropout rate less than a tenth of the average and is a model for other school seeking to curb dropout rates, especially among special education students.
Talent and Development High School has no super special or innovative reforms, it has a school day the same length as other schools, takes students by lottery for admission, is public and has no extra funding source.
It has high expectations for teachers and students, the principal has broad authority in hiring, and the school has targeted interventions for students performing below grade level.
The students have extra math and reading time, some as much as three hours a day. The grade levels are divided into smaller groups of 75 students and students rotate classes within one floor.

What it means for us:
This case study shows that there is no secret formula to reduce dropouts and raise achievement levels for special education students. The principal describes it as a “back to basics” approach, it is simply a matter of hardworking teachers collaborating and caring for students. Both teachers and students describe it as “positive peer pressure” which keeps everyone focused. One of the teachers describes how at other schools with high minority populations teachers have students playing board games in class and not focused on learning, where at this school everyone is dedicated to educating students. The bottom line is that good special education teacher is good teaching in general, but the approach of Talent Development by identifying struggling students in ninth grade, when most dropouts occur but not ignoring them or lowering standards is keeping students in school longer and invested in learning.

Aaron Seligman