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Education News

At Some Charters, College Acceptance Is Required For Graduation

YES Prep, Harmony and BASIS have graduation plans geared to higher education.


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It’s an accomplishment to walk across the stage, get your diploma and graduate from high school.

But some schools in Texas have tougher graduation requirements than others.

Take YES Prep charter schools.

Students there have to pass at least one college-level class before graduation.

“I think it’s a good bar,” says Jason Bernal, president of YES Prep.

His students also are required to be accepted to a four-year university.

“Whether they go to college or not, or whatever they want to do in life, it’s going to allow them to have more opportunities than they may not have had at a school that didn’t require the same sort of high expectation,” he says.

This kind of standard strikes a contrast with some of the new graduation plans at traditional public schools.

This year public schools in Texas are rolling out new graduation requirements, starting with this year’s freshman class.

Students can take more vocational classes towards their diploma and their future job. The basic degree requires 22 credits — and no Algebra II.

Scott Van Beck directs the education nonprofit Houston A-Plus Challenge.

He says these charters give families more options.

“What I’ve really been impressed with is sort of their no-apology attitude. That’s who they are, that’s what they represent and families understand that going in.”

Van Beck says the different graduation plans could create a gap between charters and traditional schools.

“And I think it all is going to come down to how charters executive their plan, how traditional public schools execute their plans, so yeah I think there’s potential in terms of gaps.”

Ahmet Cetinkaya
Ahmet Cetinkaya, director of accountability for Harmony schools

Charter schools have to follow at least the minimum education requirements in Texas.

But charters, which receive public funding, also have more flexibility. They can choose to go beyond those minimum standards.

Consider BASIS, an Arizona-based charter system that recently opened in San Antonio.

There the course-load is filled with college-level classes. Students generally take Advanced Placement calculus in tenth grade and another round of AP calculus in eleventh grade, according to Tiffany O’Neill, head of the San Antonio campus.

“There’s not like a regular track and an honors track. Everything is run on an honors track,” she says.

It’s so accelerated that students finish the state graduation requirements a year early. They return for their senior year to work on college applications and a final research project.

Here in Houston, Harmony students have to fulfill 100 hours of community service and be accepted into college in order to finish high school.

“I can admit that our expectations are higher than the state expectations. So we start with the minimum requirements, right now with the new freshmen class, three social study courses are fine, but we like to push for four,” says Ahmet Cetinkaya director of accountability at Harmony charter schools.

Cetinkaya says those standards have paid off.

Only 26 districts in the state earned special distinction this year for getting students ready for higher education. Two of those were Harmony schools.