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, March 17, 2015

International Baccalaureate program at an impoverished high school in Seattle as a way to improve academic outcomes

The example of Rainer Beach High School in Seattle is perhaps a model that DC could use for DC's comprehensive or "unselective" schools as a way to reset expectations for academic outcomes.

According to the Seattle Times ("Stunning surge in graduation rate as Rainier Beach gamble pays off"), the school once considered the worst in the city now has graduation rates greater than the city average, having increased by 25%, and problems with gangs, students cutting class, etc. have dropped significantly.  From the article:
Popular with the children of diplomats, the International Baccalaureate came to Rainier Beach largely at the insistence of South End parents desperate to make the school more attractive to families.

Enrollment had dwindled to 366 students — a quarter the size of most local high schools — when Pierce began the arduous, three-year application process for IB certification. Opening those classes to all students, even those who would not pursue the full diploma, was part of his plan from the start, so every junior and senior now takes IB Language Arts.

Simultaneously, Principal Dwane Chappelle hired more than a dozen new faculty, all of whom have been trained in IB’s deep-inquiry approach to wrestling with intellectual questions
The program isn't a panacea.  Thus far, a number of students have dropped out of the program, haven't passed all the tests, etc.

But so far--even with continuing problems with lack of textbooks and other materials--the program has succeeded in resetting the image and culture of the school, not just externally, but internally, within the student body, comparable to how Jaime Escalante's introduction of calculus to a Los Angeles high school with an enrollment of primarily low income Latinos changed that school.

That's why enrollments at the school are increasing, after having languished for decades.

However the school system doesn't consider IB one of its supported advanced learning programs, and the school will be forced to find its own funding to maintain the program after the introductory grant funding runs out in 2017.

The difference in DC is that programs are introduced, but often, nothing changes.  It would be interesting to study Rainer Beach High School to see why they have been successful.  Clearly there is great instructional and school leadership, even in the face of financial and other constraints shared by other schools in the public school system.

In fact, it sounds like a classic example of "positive deviance."  See the past blog entries "Positive Deviance and the DC Public Schools" and "Positive deviance in NYC school system remains unrecognized."

The idea of positive deviance is that even low performing organizations have pockets of excellence.  Unlike opposition expressed to importing "best practices," members of the organization can't ascribe the difference in outcomes to different organizational conditions.  Instead of working to import best practices, positive deviance is sort of like the Chrysler commercials -- "imported from Detroit " -- stressing the excellence already present in the organization and "exporting" it to other sites across the organization.

-- "Your Company's Secret Change Agents," Harvard Business Review, May 2005, is the article that introduced me to the positive deviance concept

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