"Last Chance High" by Deirdre M.              Kelly

Last Chance High How Girls and Boys Drop In and Out of Alternative Schools Deirdre M. Kelly

Publication date:
23 Jun 1993
Yale University Press
296 pages: 235 x 156mm
Sales territories:

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.

Deirdre M. Kelly is assistant professor in the department of social and educational studies at the University of British Columbia.

"This book?the first serious study of the continuation high school?compellingly shows how these schools are consequences of the inadequacies of high schools and, probably no less than the high schools, are not adequate to their task."?Seymour Sarason, Yale University

"Deirdre M. Kelly's study of two continuation high schools joins a growing body of work showing that this schooling solution is at best a naive and at worst a pernicious prescription, very likely to perpetuate social, political, and economic inequalities. By placing basic descriptive statistics in the context of rich and thick descriptions of the meanings students assign to their day-to-day experiences, Kelly brings to life her account of disengagement in continuation high schools."?Jeannie Oakes, from the foreword

"A welcome addition to the growing body of ethnographic research on secondary schools and their students. . . . [From an] unusually rich body of student testimony about school . . . Kelly [derives] telling insights about gender as a factor in secondary school persistence."?John L. Rury, Contemporary Sociology

"This book's main contribution lies in its depiction of the interplay of gender and class in high school life. Reading this work will benefit researchers seeking to understand the social and organizational systems of high schools and how they impinge on students' educational careers."?Nilda M. Flores-Gonzalez, American Journal of Sociology

"[Kelly's] examination of student disengagement and dropping out is enlightening and suggestive of larger social problems. Kelly uses a broad critical literature, with a focus on social class, gender, and ethnicity, to inform and embed her findings about the failings of these schools. . . . Especially valuable in its examination of the social and educational contexts within which public schools operate. . . Kelly offers insights that could offer improvement: an autopsy versus a diagnosis."?Jack L. Nelson, Annals of the American Academy