Join us as Emily Krone Phillips discusses and signs copies of her new book, THE MAKE-OR-BREAK YEAR: Solving the Dropout Crisis One Ninth Grader at a Time. In it we meet the freshmen of Hancock and Tilden high schools on Chicago’s South Side. There’s Marcus, a born leader who is brilliant at math but struggling to manage his intense emotions and the pull of gang culture; Sierra, the subject of vicious rumors and bullied by her peers for her looks; David, who fades into the background thanks to his particular gift for ditching school; and others grappling with the tumultuousness of being a teen. Often impressionable and sometimes dealing with violence, loss, or instability at home, all of them are failing at least one class. They show up late or not at all, fall in with distracting peers, mouth off, storm out, miss assignments, and generally drive their teachers mad.
At Hancock and Tilden, however, students like Marcus, Sierra, and David are also the focus of a dedicated group of teachers, staff, and administrators fighting to keep all of them in school. The group comes together to problem-solve around students’ individual needs, stage tailored interventions, call parents, visit homes, and give the second, third, and fourth chances necessary to give them a real shot at a successful future. Emily Krone Phillips, author of THE MAKE-OR-BREAK YEAR: Solving the Dropout Crisis One Ninth Grader at a Time, follows these students and teachers—and Chicago’s fraught politics—through a school year full of the trials, heartbreaks, and triumphs of making it through ninth grade.
As Emily Krone Phillips explains, Chicago honed in on ninth grade as a result of research from the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research which found that students who passed their freshman year courses almost always went on to graduate, while those who failed more than one semester of a course almost always dropped out. This “Freshman On Track” indicator would prove more predictive of graduation rates than prior academic achievement, a student’s race or gender, or the level of their family and community resources combined.
Krone Phillips deftly captures the synergy between teachers, administrators, parents, and students, to show how schools can realize the tremendous untapped potential roaming their halls. She also contextualizes the challenges educators and students face by explaining the cutting-edge research on the adolescent brain and crucial science that countless urban education reform strategies overlook. The stories in THE MAKE-OR-BREAK YEAR are sure to inspire educators, administrators, parents, and anyone around the country struggling to understand how schools can give students the tools, confidence, and opportunity to thrive.
Emily Krone Phillips is the communications director at the Spencer Foundation. She worked previously as an educator reporter and as the communications director at the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research, where the Freshman OnTrack research originated and inspired her to write The Make-or-Break Year (The New Press). She lives in Chicago.
“Every educator in America needs to read The Make-or-Break Year—now.” —Amy Ellis Nutt, Pulitzer Prize–winning writer and co-author of The
“In ninth grade, nothing matters more than belonging. With profound respect for both youth and their educators, this superb book sets out all the factors that make school a place where freshmen feel they belong.” —Kathleen Cushman, author of Fires in the Bathroom
“A decisive, urgent case . . . clear-eyed and hopeful.” —Michelle Kuo, author of Reading with Patrick
“Refreshing and expertly reported . . . It will profoundly change the way we see high school in America.” —Peg Tyre, author of The Trouble with Boys
A Washington Post Bestseller
An entirely fresh approach to ending the high school dropout crisis is revealed in this groundbreaking chronicle of unprecedented transformation in a city notorious for its "failing schools"