The Dayton Early College Academy (DECA) is Dayton’s highest performing high school (district or charter). The school is authorized by the Dayton Public Schools and is widely supported across the Dayton region. It partners not only with the Dayton Public Schools but the University of Dayton, Sinclair Community College, and numerous local businesses and philanthropic groups. In fact, when the school launched an elementary campus at the start of this school year more than 300 volunteers worked to clean the school, paint walls, and fix up the 85-year-old-building that now houses DECA prep. These volunteers included inmates from the county jail who volunteered to help.
DECA delivers and Dayton knows it. The numbers help tell the story:
*78.4 Percent economically disadvantaged
*87.9 Percent non-white
*100 Percent of students Percent in Math and Reading on the 10th grade Ohio Graduation Test.
*100 Percent of its graduates (and graduation rate is over 95 percent) are admitted to college and 87 percent make it to their sophomore year.
DECA is a Bronze Medal winner from U.S. News & World Report in its annual ranking of America's Best High Schools in 2012 and 2009. And has been studied widely by, among others, Fordham, Harvard, Great City Colleges of Education, the Gates Foundation and the Center for Secondary School Redesign.
But despite all this success in a city where far too many kids fail academically, DECA’s success is being trashed by the organized-labor funded Join the Future in Columbus because the school requires students to go through an application process for enrollment. This, Join the Future argues, results in DECA creaming kids and thus diminishing the school’s now decade long track-record of excellence serving some of the city’s most high-need students. Some of whom are actually homeless and most of whom receive free and reduced price lunch.
It is clear no one from Join the Future has ever visited DECA, spoken to its students and families, or even bothered to actually read all that has been written about this award winning school. It is also clear that Join the Future is clueless about how public high schools across the state enroll students. For example, in our recent report Needles in a Haystack: Lessons from Ohio’s high-performing urban high schools we reported on some of the state’s top high-poverty, high-performing urban high schools. All the schools we reported on were fantastic and their students and parents couldn’t say enough about how these schools saved lives and gave students opportunities too often afforded only to their richer suburban peers. But, these schools (all public district high schools) also had entry requirements for their students.
For example, Stivers School for the Arts in Dayton requires “an audition entry bar; singing and dancing counts.” At John Hay Early College High School in Cleveland “admission is based on seventh-grade Ohio Achievement Assessments (OAA) scores in reading and math, teacher recommendations, a math entrance exam, and an interview.” Cleveland School of the Arts is a “selective-admissions school; to gain entry students must first audition in one of the art forms – dance, drama, visual arts, band, strings, vocal, creative writing, photography, or graphic design – then pass a series of interviews and other assessments.”
Such schools, like DECA, deliver for their kids and rather than trash them for their success with kids who need the help, we argue, Ohio should figure out how to better support such schools, help them expand what they do, and figure out how to add more of them to the mix. If we do, families and children in places like Dayton will be the beneficiaries. That's the sort of future I want to join.