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WBEZ And Catalyst Chicago Investigate CPS Expansion Of For-profit Alternative Schools

One of the biggest success stories out of Chicago Public Schools in the last decade is the skyrocketing graduation rate. Facing re-election, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is promising to take it even higher in the next four years—from 70 percent to 85 percent.

To get there, Emanuel and CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett are contracting with for-profit companies to give teenagers a new way to earn their high school diploma in a fraction of the time.

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Two years ago, Chicago had 30 small alternative schools, and today, there are 50.  A WBEZ and Catalyst Chicago analysis of that expansion has found that the district is on a troubling path toward its goal to re-enroll dropouts as it turns to new, largely unproven, mostly online alternative schools to educate more students.

A WBEZ and Catalyst Chicago investigation also found: At many of the new schools, students are able to complete courses in a matter of weeks. A 17-year-old boy told reporters he finished the equivalent of a semester’s worth of work in three days.