School reform "should be" "easy" but it isn't because we ignore the obvious
I can't help but think of the Winston Churchill quote:
You can always trust America to do the right thing, after she has exhausted all other possible alternativeswrt "school reform."
I probably have a couple hundred pieces, most written back in the Michelle Rhee-Fenty years, about the issue.
Basically, students who are poor need access to more, better, and diverse school-based resources, complemented by family assistance programs, and other supports:
-- "Powerful story of how Bristol Virginia elementary school deals with extremely impoverished students," 2015
-- "Missing the most fundamental point about urban educational reform (in DC)," 2009
-- "Positive Deviance and the DC Public Schools," 2007
-- "Positive deviance in NYC school system remains unrecognized," 2006
The lesson from charter schools isn't that they are somehow better than traditional school settings, but for the most part, the charter schools that are touted tend to be examples of those that get more resources and supports than traditional schools.
-- "No wonder DC school systems are underperforming," 2016
DC efforts to do this -- provide more resources to students and schools with exceptional needs -- pretty much have never gotten off the ground ("Fawning coverage of DC school "reform" doesn't push better practice forward," which discusses the September 2016 Washington City Paper article by Jeffrey Anderson, "Left Behind: How Kaya Henderson Failed At-Risk DCPS Students") at least to the level that is required, although many high quality support programs have been created and implemented.
But systematic school-wide improvement programs haven't been funded or instituted along the lines of efforts such as in Montgomery County, Maryland.
Cheating and lies at Ballou High School. So it should be no wonder with all the pressures to improve student outcomes, without providing the right kinds of supports and tools necessary to do so, that school administrators lie, cheat and obfuscate, and pass students who shouldn't be passed, which has come out with Ballou High School in DC ("DC plans probe of Ballou High School following report questioning standards," Washington Post). From the article:
D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser launched an investigation Wednesday into allegations that some students who were chronically absent and others who could scarcely read and write were allowed to graduate from Ballou Senior High School in Southeast Washington.They never learn. After all, it took USA Today, not the Washington Post, to investigate the test score cheating that occurred in many DC schools during the Rhee years.
The D.C. Council also announced that following the accusations, it plans to hold a hearing to investigate graduation rates in the city.
At a midday news conference, Bowser and D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Antwan Wilson said they are taking the allegations seriously but stood by Ballou — a historically low-performing high school that has been touted for its seemingly rapid improvements in recent years — and its principal.
-- "How test cheating is a damning indicator of the problems with the prevailing approach to school "reform"," 2012
Note that I wrote about Ballou in 2005, "Street vs. Middle-class Culture in the DC School System."
IB as an program not susceptible to local cheating. In a column yesterday, Washington Post education columnist Jay Mathews made the point that in order to improve failing schools, they need an overt and independent reset ("The only way to fix bad high schools is to start over"). From the article:
Ballou has been one of the worst high schools in the country for decades. It would be best to send its poorly served students elsewhere — they can’t do worse at other schools — and start over.
The District has already tried that with encouraging results. Eastern High School shut down for renovation, and during the second year of its reopening, it had just a ninth-grade class. The school added a class each year as it took a remarkably steady, long-term approach to its students’ lack of preparation.
Future Eastern students were offered challenging classes designed by International Baccalaureate in three elementary and two middle schools. The Accelerated Cohort at Eastern (ACE) program was created for ninth- and 10th-graders who had shown “motivation and habits of mind to meet above grade-level academic standards,” as the program’s leaders put it.
This produced startling results. In 2016, Eastern gave 62 IB exams, which were three to five hours long. Forty-two percent of those exams received passing scores from independent graders. In the past on similar tests, the school’s passing rate was usually zero.
But he misses a huge point. Programs like IB have a system of accreditation and grading that is independent of the local schools that participate.
The advantage of IB is that it is a national/international program and system of accreditation that can't be gamed by local school administrators, because the testing protocols and grading are independent of the local schools.
That's the kind of reboot that schools like Ballou need. Otherwise it's merely more of the "The soft bigotry of low expectations" (Washington Post column by Michael Gerson), because school administrators are incentivized to cheat, especially when they aren't provided with the right resources necessary for success.
Note that a few years ago I wrote ("International Baccalaureate program at an impoverished high school in Seattle as a way to improve academic outcomes") about how Rainier Beach High School in Seattle, one of that city's worst performing schools, rebooted through the introduction of IB, with some support--but not enough--from the central administration.
But at the time I last wrote about it, the school system wasn't willing to provide the small amount of additional resources the school needed to maintain its IB accreditation ("Deal saves Rainier Beach High School's acclaimed IB program," Seattle Times).
This is merely one more example of how the additional resources required for schools serving the impoverished typically aren't forthcoming.
WRT the tenor of the Mathews column, for a number of years I've been writing that rebuilding failing schools, especially when so many of DC's high schools have paltry enrollments, is a waste of money, that instead we should be focusing on strengthening the existing schools.
-- "DC wastes $122 million on new high school: evidence of failures in capital improvements planning and budgeting," 2013
-- "DC high schools: capacity vs. enrollment," 2014
-- "DC high school that wasn't needed and built at a cost of $122 million wins sustainability award," 2015
In a neighborhood discussion of the coming renovation of nearby Coolidge High School, data shared stated that the school has had an enrollment of about 400 students !!!!!!! for many years.
DC high school enrollments, 2012-2013 school year
|School Without Walls||548|
It makes no sense!
This is why I argued that to reduce capacity pressures on Wilson School, Western High School (Ellington School of the Arts) should be converted to a regular high school, and Ellington shifted to one of the Ward 4 high schools -- either Roosevelt or Coolidge -- to allow the local school to focus and to add Metrorail proximity to the city-wide serving Ellington School.
Instead the city spent $175 million on rebuilding Ellington, and will spend close to that amount renovating Coolidge (and adding a middle school as part of the renovation).