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How Chicago’s Schools Used Second Chances to Improve Graduation Rates

Desiree Cintron’s name used to come up a lot during “kid talk,” a weekly meeting at Chicago’s North-Grand High School at which teachers mull over a short list of freshmen in trouble.

Today, although Desiree still is not a strong student at North-Grand, which serves mostly low-income Latino kids in Chicago’s West Humboldt Park neighborhood, she has the grades to make graduation within reach.

At the core of Desiree’s success story is a strikingly simple tactic that research says really works: Get a high-school student through freshman year and the odds skyrocket that he or she will graduate. Chicago was a pioneer of the strategy, first applying it in 2007, and has the numbers that would seem to prove its worth, even after accounting for inflation by principals possibly gaming the system. The potential is huge for school systems across the nation, especially those in urban areas plagued by low graduation rates.