Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Update from Uplift

As I expected, Uplift carefully tracks all of it students, both while at Uplift and in college, and is very open about its overall great results, but also areas for improvement.  Here's an email from the CEO, Yasmin Bhatia:


Whitney, I saw your note and all of us within the Uplift family agree completely with the approach that the true measure of our effectiveness is our ability to convince entering ninth graders on the value of both high school and college graduation.  Our strong goal, like that of KIPP, is to hold ourselves accountable in both areas.  By way of background, Uplift began as a single charter school (North Hills Prep) in 1996 and did not expand until the creation of its first urban school, Peak Prep, in 2004.  While North Hills had its first high school graduation in 2002, Peak Prep did not have its first high school graduating class until 2010. 


This year, 2011, was our first year to have graduating classes across all five of our high schools, including the three high schools (Williams, Summit, and Hampton) which were founded with small ninth grade classes in 2007.  As with most startup organizations grown organically over time, our success with our high schools is highly correlated with the time that each school has had to mature, cement its leadership and culture and, equally important, communicate its expectations to the broader community.  Our oldest high school, North Hills, has now had 10 graduating classes and has consistently been ranked in the top 20 public high schools in the country per both Newsweek magazine and now The Washington Post.  North Hills ranked 10th in their most recent surveys and Peak Preparatory, a Title 1 school in our system, entered The Washington Post list at 11th best high school in its first year of eligibility.  A non-Title 1 school reflecting a very diverse ethnic and socio-economic student body, North Hills graduated roughly 70% of its entering ninth graders in 2011.  Its college persistence rate is high; per our records 96.5% of our North Hills high school graduates have either graduated from college or are still in college today.  We are in the process this summer of updating our database to capture degrees earned by those students.  Anecdotally we have heard from our students that they feel better prepared than most of their college freshman counterparts. We attribute this mostly to the rigor of both our AP and K-12 International Baccalaureate focused programs.


The story is different but improving with our four urban Title I high schools; many students initially enrolled not completely understanding what our expectations for academic rigor and college matriculation truly meant.  They, along with those students who moved or who later decided that having access to more robust extracurricular programs such as athletics that we could not afford was more important, subsequently elected to transfer to other Dallas area high schools during their high school career.  Historically we have seen as we open schools it takes approximately three years to stabilize the school and have 100% understanding from our students and their families of our culture of high-expectations. We typically see in the first three years of operation higher changes in enrollment.  As a result, on average roughly 60% of those entering ninth grade classes in 2007 ultimately graduated from an Uplift high school in 2011.  Those percentages of our entering ninth grade classes in 2008-10 that will graduate in 2012-14 are improving as our reputation becomes more known locally and students are clearer about what they are signing up for when they enroll in an Uplift school.  They are also now seeing the payoff with college acceptances and financial aid that their predecessors entering high school in 2007 could only view as a promise and not a reality.  With a goal to ultimately become K-12 across all of our campuses, the mismatch in expectations should be substantially reduced as students grow up in our culture from the age of 6.  We have established a goal of 75% retention of entering ninth graders and plan to reach that goal in the next five years.


Across all five high schools, 96% of our roughly 200 graduates in 2011 received 1100 college acceptances.  96% of our graduates were accepted to a 4-year institution. Unfortunately, due to the much publicized state of Texas budget cuts in higher ed funding, roughly 20% of this most recent class has elected to enroll in a community college due to inadequate financial aid funding for state schools, with an occasional "family pull" keeping a few students close to home in a two-year college vs. attending a four year school.  Each of our high school campuses has a full-time counselor who is specifically assigned to our graduates in college and is accountable for both supporting and tracking their college persistence.  100% of the graduates from our 2010 graduating class are still in college a year later compared to the national average of 65% persisting from freshman year to sophomore year; we continue to work hard and have support systems in place to continue to push forward on a positive trending persistence rate.


Whitney, as always, thanks for the ability to dialogue and learn from others.



Yasmin Bhatia

Uplift Education CEO

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