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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Alternative Pathways: Investigating the Use of Independent Study as a Means to Dropout Recovery and College Preparation

  • Author(s): Oleks, Christopher D.
  • Advisor(s): Christie, Christina A
  • et al.

This study examined the impact of an independent study-based curricular design as a means of recovering dropped out youth and preparing them to succeed in postsecondary settings. The study focused on a dropout recovery program located in a large, urban public school district. The program offered dropouts a reduced-credit, faster-track pathway to a high school diploma. The study utilized a success case study design in order to examine three sites within the program that were highly successful at graduating students, and one that performed below the program average. The goals of the study were to learn why some sites were outperforming others within the program at graduating students, and whether there were common best practices employed at the strong performing sites. Additionally, the study sought to ascertain the impact of the program on graduates who later pursued postsecondary educational offerings. Data were collected through interviews of staff and former graduates, site observations, as well as examinations of program documents. I compared data gathered at the success case sites and the underperforming site to identify commonalities between site practices and graduates’ recollections of how the program impacted their academic trajectory. Chief among the findings were that staff at high performing sites within the program shared a core set of four common beliefs, out of which sprang a number of shared best practices. These beliefs and practices had arisen absent the influence of an overall programmatic design. In addition, the study found that the program had an extremely positive impact upon graduates. In particular, the program changed their views of education from highly negative to positive, and led to high levels of satisfaction in postsecondary settings, as well as high rates of persistence. My findings suggest that the implementation of independent study-based curriculum and reduced-credit pathways to a high school diploma should be examined carefully by school districts as a potentially highly successful means for addressing the nation’s dropout crisis, but that care should be taken to ensure that program design and maintenance allows for top-tier performance.

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