Project Graduation Really Achieves Dreams (GRAD) is an ambitious education reform initiative designed to improve academic achievement, high school graduation rates, and rates of college attendance for low-income students. Recognizing that high schools inherit problems that have arisen earlier in the education pipeline, Project GRAD intervenes throughout an entire “feeder pattern” of elementary and middle schools that send students into each high school. This report presents results of MDRC’s multiyear evaluation of the effects of Project GRAD on student progress at three high schools in Houston (the initiative’s original site) and at high schools in two other school districts (Columbus, Ohio, and Atlanta, Georgia). A companion report discusses findings for Project GRAD elementary schools in four cities.
Project GRAD schools at all levels build support in the community for school improvement and college attendance, implement a classroom management program, provide students with access to needed social services, and receive special support from local Project GRAD organizations. Project GRAD elementary schools implement specific reading and math curricula, along with enhanced professional development for teachers. At the high school level, Project GRAD’s model assumes that better-prepared students would come from the Project GRAD feeder schools, would benefit from special academic counseling and summer academic enrichment in high school, and would qualify for a scholarship to attend college, which is the “cornerstone” of the Project GRAD reform.
The key findings of this report are:
- At Jefferson Davis High School in Houston — the initiative’s flagship school — Project GRAD had a statistically significant positive impact on the proportion of students who completed a core academic curriculum on time. As Project GRAD expanded into two other Houston high schools, these positive effects on students’ academic preparation were not evident.
- Improvements in graduation rates at the three Project GRAD Houston high schools were generally matched by improvements in graduation rates at the comparison schools.
- The Project GRAD high schools in Columbus and Atlanta in the early years of implementation showed improvements in attendance and promotion to tenth grade that appear to have outpaced improvements at the comparison schools, although the differences are only sometimes statistically significant.