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OSSI schools have greater numbers of economically disadvantaged students and students of color than those in the state as a whole. In 2008-09, 52% of students at OSSI schools qualified for free or reduced-price lunches versus 37% at non-OSSI high schools. Thirty-five percent of students at OSSI schools were students of color versus 26% at non-OSSI high schools. The initiative provided school and district leaders with planning resources to convert from comprehensive high schools into small schools and to launch new small schools.
Over the past two decades, Oregon students have made significant achievement gains in the lower grades, but improving high school achievement has been particularly challenging. The Manhattan Institute for Policy Research gave Oregon a "lowest-in-the-nation" score for high school graduation (along with 11 other states) because only a third of Oregon students earn a high school diploma in four years.
The Oregon Small Schools Initiative was a seven-year, $28 million high school reform effort funded by MMT and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The initiative sought to raise academic standards, close the achievement gap and improve graduation rates through "rigor, relevance and relationships" in autonomous high schools of not more than 400 students.