Gail Robinson of The Hechinger Report profiles Diploma Plus, an organization that operates small alternative high schools for students who have repeatedly failed a grade and are on the verge of dropping out. Unlike most schools where time is constant and learning is variable, Diploma Plus has flipped the paradigm and made learning constant and time variable. Robinson sits down with William Diehl, who has been involved with Diploma Plus since its founding almost twenty years ago and is now the chair of their board.
We are working with students who have fallen behind. Some have no hope of catching up if they have to be judged on time [in school]. If we can move away from seat time and toward learning competencies, we can accelerate their accumulation of credit and speed up or slow down based on their interests and abilities. We focus on creating a school culture that’s safe, supportive and engaging. A lot of students come to Diploma Plus schools with a poor attendance record. Some have discipline issues. Our theory is that students have to be present, engaged and supported for learning to take place. So we do a lot with [advising] students and coming up with expectations, consequences, etc., so students know what is expected of them. [Another] piece is college and career readiness. We do partnerships with colleges, college visits. Our students largely come from families where going to college is not the norm. The more we can get them on campus, so it’s not a scary place but a place that is supportive and challenging, the more likely they are to have success there.