At a time when lowering the dropout rate is said to be a national priority, America's longest running and largest dropout prevention program has gone strangely unnoticed. This highly readable book explores the hidden world of the continuation high school, the most common form of alternative high school. Deirdre M. Kelly analyzes the factors that limit its success and focuses especially on gender issues in these schools: how girls and boys slip in and out of the system in different ways, for different reasons, and with different consequences.
Kelly finds that mainstream high schools attempt to mask their own dropout and pushout rates by sending marginalized students to continuation schools. These schools, therefore, become as much safety valves for the system as safety nets for the students, and the resulting contradictions and stigma hamper success. In the two continuation schools that she examined closely, completion rates were low.
Kelly discusses the history of the continuation school and the ethnic and class composition of the student body: in cities, African-Americans and Latinos predominate, and in the suburbs, mostly middle-class whites attend. She examines for the first time how formal and hidden curricula and peer influences affect girls and boys differently and lead them to drop out of school. Drawing on a year's on-site observations, interviews with students and teachers, school records, and theories of gender, class, and ethnicity, Kelly both analyzes and brings to life what more than one student describes as the emotional "soap opera" of high school.