Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Education update: school reform as focus on the test, not critical thinking

This entry includes a couple photos that should have illustrated the previous entry.  Pierce School was vacant for many years.  During the financial receivership period in the 1990s, some of the vacant buildings were sold off.  This property, about one block from H Street NE, was renovated about ten years ago as apartments.  It was an early investment in revitalization that contributed, although the contribution is unrecognized, to current H Street corridor revitalization efforts.

My entry from yesterday, "Frustration #2: school reform discussions mostly miss the point," didn't include cites to a couple other newspaper articles.

Edmonds School at 9th and D Streets NE was sold to the DC Teachers Credit Union in the 1980s I think.  It was used for offices and such and was recently sold to a developer for conversion to housing.

1.  This piece, "Graduates from low-performing DC schools face tough college road," from the Washington Post discusses the difficulty that DC high school graduates have in college, taking on college work.  I was shocked that this problem extends "to white kids from upper class homes graduating from the city's 'best' high school," as according to the article, Seth Brown, a Wilson graduate, now at Dartmouth, was flummoxed by having two 5-page papers due around the same time, that he had limited experience with writing in high school.

From the article:

Collier had been a star at Ballou, where fewer than one-quarter of students are proficient in math and reading. But she said that her classes largely dealt with the basics: summarizing story plots, for example, and learning how to write complete and grammatically correct sentences.

Only in her senior year, in an advanced English course, did a teacher challenge her to think more deeply. “I feel like it was too late,” said Collier, who took two of the three AP classes she said were available to her at Ballou. “It just wasn’t enough to have that kind of teacher for one year.”

In her first semester at Penn State, Collier took seminars in which professors asked her to synthesize ideas, develop arguments and do original research. It was new to her.

“We had to go into the library all the time and research articles and really, really write,” Collier said. “It was difficult for me because I hadn’t done that in high school. I didn’t have to write a lot. I didn’t really research anything.” ...

Matthew Stuart, an AP English teacher at Dunbar, attributed students’ lack of college preparation in part to the city’s focus on annual standardized tests that demand little critical thinking or problem-solving. Many teachers give students simple strategies for tackling basic essay prompts, he said, but teachers don’t have a chance to venture into more difficult and stimulating intellectual terrain until after 10th grade, the final year of standardized testing.

This building on the Miner School campus (15th Street NE) is still for the most part vacant.  Miner School was rebuilt more than ten years ago.

2.  The other piece is "Can School Reform Hurt Communities?," from the New York Times. From the article:

In New Orleans, this single-minded focus on school improvement has given new hope to many low-income families, but it has also destabilized the broader community in some unanticipated ways. Consider the cost to many veteran educators, who formed the core of the city’s black middle class. After the flood, officials fired 7,500 school employees. An unknown number were ultimately rehired by the reconstituted traditional and charter schools, but they often found themselves working in a very different environment.

The growth in charter schools has fostered an unrelenting focus on preparation for standardized tests and college. Some classes begin with students as young as 5 chanting: “This is the way — hey! — we start the day — hey! We get the knowledge — hey! — to go to college — hey!” At the end of the summer, this year’s incoming kindergartners will most likely be told that they are members of the class of 2030, for the year they will graduate from college.

The obstacles that stand in the way of this goal — poverty, trauma, parental ambivalence — are considered “excuses” that must not distract from the quest. Watching this mentality play out in the lives of families and educators can be both inspiring and frightening.

The Carberry School had been unused by the school system since the late 1940s.  The building, on 5th Street NE, near Stanton Park, was converted into loft housing in 1987.  Photographer unknown.

The author argues that the charter movement in New Orleans has issues:

1. teachers and schools being disconnected from communities;

2. charter schools as traditionally constituted are often unable to help children that need extranormal help because of their circumstances (she gives an example of a child who came to the high school where she taught, reading on a third grade level, and caught up in a maelstrom of crime and neighborhood strife).

She sums up the experience in New Orleans pretty coldly:

The focus on school improvement in New Orleans has succeeded in lifting the average student from a state of academic crisis to one of academic mediocrity...

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At 8:11 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

Ancetodally, this is what I am seeing from "successful" DCPS grads. They hae the ability to do tasks and ordered lists but zero critical thinking.

The same, by and large, is true of a a lot of recent grads (under 25).

I won't even push the the idea that the "creative class" has a vested interest in making sure we dumb down 75% of the population to ensure their kids do well.

The store about the Wilson grad who didn't have five page papers in high school is worrisome. Again, however, if you talk to college professors they feel high schools are not doing a good job preparing students to write.Anecdotally, this is what I am seeing from "successful" DCPS grads. They have the ability to do tasks and ordered lists but zero critical thinking.

The same, by and large, is true of a a lot of recent grads (under 25). The store about the Wilson grad who didn't have five page papers in high school is worrisome. Again, however, if you talk to college professors they feel high schools are not doing a good job preparing students to write. Very few public high school graduates are equipped to compete at Ivy League undergraduate levels.

(I won't even push the the idea that the "creative class" has a vested interest in making sure we dumb down 75% of the population to ensure their kids do well.)

Again. some stats: From the post article, 2/3 of DCPS grads go to college. (That seems high). Out of that, only 1/3 graduate in 6 years. So something like 20% of DCPS graduates get a college degree. So out of the 1300 grads, we should expect something like 250 or so college grads.

Strongly suggests quality of education at "good" schools (BBHS, Ellington, McKinley, SWW) is severely lacking in DC.

At 9:03 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

In my high school, we didn't really have AP classes. My senior year, the school attempted to offer college equivalent English from Syracuse U's Project Advance, but we rebelled because we didn't think we'd get college credit--most of us were destined for Michigan schools and UM, MSU, and other schools didn't accept the course for college credit.

But I do remember writing papers in English classes (I did one on the death of the New York Herald Tribune e.g., as I was really into newspapers).

And we lived a few miles from Oakland University, and it wasn't unheard of for us to go and use their college library.

At 9:04 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

From the SU Alumni Magazine:

SUpa—now celebrating its 40th year—got its start because of a local epidemic of senioritis. in 1972, six Central New york high schools approached SU about establishing a program to address college-bound seniors’ lack of motivation and college preparation.

SU proposed that high school teachers, trained as adjunct professors, could teach university credit-bearing courses during the school day. Senioritis would be mitigated—and students
given a jump on their college careers—through rigorous
courses, readings, and labs, similar in every way to those
experienced on campus

... today, 10,200 students
in more than 200 high schools—across five states and three continents—can choose from 38 courses in disciplines encompassing humanities; languages; pre-law; business; and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

At 9:06 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

IB of course is another method for increasingly the rigor of school.

... when I worked at CSPI 20+ years ago, one of my tasks was to market a book to teachers of middle school students. The book was a set of activities to teach about nutrition and food.

I talked to the owner of a teacher supply store and he said that he didn't stock books beyond an 8th grade reading level.

I replied that the book was for teachers, not students. He said that the teachers didn't have a high reading ability either.

I was shocked.

At 10:17 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

Public schools are like congreemen; everyone knows they are terrible but the one they go it ok.

It is hard because we've got two seperate problems - the increaingly mediocrity of public schools for the middle class and US, and the failure of the underclass to get any sort of education.

And in DC, we've go the issue of how to "right-size" the educational complex. About 10K high school students, which is enough for about 3-4 high schools.

I'd make HS the barrier; if you can't read at a 8th grade level you don't get into HS.

At 11:49 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

The book _Big School Small School_ is a classic in the field of social psych and community psychology. It made the point that as schools get larger, the average level of participation by the average student declines. Instead, the super jock and cheerleader types do it all, from sports to debate club.

OTOH, Conant's _Comprehensive High School_ discusses how without size, you can't really offer a breadth of programs.

That doesn't even take into account the general mediocrity thing. Not to mention the rise of the Internet and mobile computing, which probably contributes more to "snacking" on knowledge rather than delving into it/creating it, at least at the high school level.

(DK if you remember the recent Jay Mathews column about how students should have to complete a research paper before they graduate. I thought that was semi standard practice.)

I think the knowledge snacking means that kids don't read books very much. If you do read books, that has to help your writing and conceptual development.

Anyway, your point aobut the HS student popualtion is key. I haven't made it so clearly myself, other than to say we have way more high schools than we have students for them, and it is unconscionable to rebuild schools like Dunbar when we already have unused school buildings. Or that it is a waste to call for a new middle school to be constructed in W3 (by CM Cheh) when there are abutting jr. high school buildings (like Francis) that can be used, or how Ellington could be moved out of the old Western High School (I picked up the 1962 WHS yearbook at an antique store recently) and the school could be either a high school or a middle school for W3, and Ellington could be moved into Coolidge or Roosevelt and use the slack capacity there, providing easy subway connections there, and allowing W4 to have one decent high school instead of two underutilized schools.

At 12:02 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

also this:

So, as a plan?

1. Reduce the DC chokepoint for schools before high school.

2. Move to right size HS in DC (say 6). Given the alleged truacy rates, I'd hazard a guess than the actual number of students IN CLASS in less than say Arlington County.

3. More of a focus on books/writing in HS than testing.

At 1:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excerpt from Kwame Brown's Biography from his last inauguration

A Foundation in Education
Kwame graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School and the Mayor’s Youth Leadership Institute. He went on to receive his Bachelor of Arts in Marketing from Morgan State University. He later graduated from the Minority Business Executive Program & Advanced Business Executive Program at the Amos Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, as well as the Senior Executives in State & Local Government Program at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

At 2:12 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

an article in the Informer about the closure of Spingarn High School mentioned that its senior class was 87 students.


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