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, December 12, 2017

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 alternatives
wrt "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.

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.
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.

-- "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.
I agree.  He discusses the use of IB--International Baccaulaureate--at Eastern High School, with earlier development of IB at feeder elementary and junior high schools as the way to do it.

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 Enrollment
Anacostia 697
Ballou 791
Banneker 394
Cardozo 537
Coolidge 490
Dunbar 504
Eastern 504
Ellington 551
McKinley 697
Phelps 340
Roosevelt 473
School Without Walls 548
Wilson 1713
Woodson 710

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).

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At 6:52 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

Rereading the city paper piece make you realize how much things have changed.

So banging on test scores and college admissions made a difference as well.

As did capital renovations -- more as a signal than anything else.

However, the same problems of state capture are alive and we'll today -- look at the United Heath saga.

On IB tests, I think you can game any test. But things like AP or IB tests which require you to write essays do make for a much harder system to cheat than a bunch of multiple choice answers. British A levels come to mind as well.

But I'd rather be a student there today than in 2005, and that is without the massive social spending that you'd propose (Marshall plan).

I'd say you see in charter schools the value of:

1) bringing in a lot of new money on capital investment;
2) creating an environment where students who want to learn and kept and the rest thrown out.
3) blowing up the teachers/administrations has helped create better learning environments -- but maybe not better outcomes.

At 12:34 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Yes, you're right that it's probably better.

Would it had been "even better" or "way better" had they followed a different course is a question we'll never be able to answer. I do think we could have done a lot better given the resources expended.

wrt your point:

creating an environment where students who want to learn and kept and the rest thrown out.

That's huge. Many of the teachers I talk to argue this is the hardest thing about the public schools, that so many of the students have no interest, are majorly disruptive, and they can't be removed from class for all practical purposes.

with AP, teachers complain that many students are put into AP courses because "it's important to try"/the very poorly designed Mathews high school rating methodology which rewards the number of people taking tests but not pass rates, etc., and they are disruptive too, making it very difficult to teach those courses, and make it almost impossible for "AP courses" to raise the bar for a school.

of your 3 points, I'd add a fourth, that charter schools also have a higher rate of social and community capital because the students are there because their parents expended time and energy to get them enrolled, they have a sense of accomplishment about it, they participate more in school functions, etc.

Still, not perfect. E.g., the Hispanic kid killed who had gang affiliations apparently, recently went to Cap. City (this is the school around the corner from us).

At 11:07 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

RE: Social and Community Capital

Yeah, absolutely.

Going back to a second to the "marshal plan" a critique is that you're asking for the government to do things it isn't very good at (nanny state); since home rule DC probably has spent well over $150B on social services. Probably more, and very little results.

On community capital that same impulse (it is unfair that NW PTAs have so much money) so lets take it and spread i out is still here. Being jealous of your neighbor vs finding solutions to poverty and two different things.

I'd do a program like:

1) give each kid in DCPS $5 a day for each day they are in class.

2) If you graduate from HS you get the money. It is about 15K. If you don't you lose it.

Lots of way to game the system, but marshal plan tend to ignore incentives.

I'd also say that if a kid is bored at school it is 25% the kid and 75% the teacher. Teaching is performing, not everyone is good at that.

At 12:09 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

1. wrt the money, a couple things. At one level I don't like it. But otoh, families with money give their kids allowances, etc.

But what about something like the Kalamazoo Promise, paying for college for successful completion of school? Not with the limitations that DC has on the current program.

b. But given kids need legitimate money, etc., that's why I keep promoting the idea of "cooperative high school education," modeled after Northeastern University, but with paying internships, etc.

But unlike the Summer Youth Program, not make work jobs, not paying people for no work, not showing up, etc.

I think there's a need for money, and building work skills, etc. cf. the Bolsa Familia in Brazil and that program in Oakland

2. Marshall Plan. Well, I have to admit at one level it's theoretical. I wish I could get a year's fellowship and work it out in a finer grained detail.

As you know, the idea is to link and integrate programs, add a high level of innovation, get rid of the silos, have program managers for families, add civic assets and hours of operation, etc., using "social urbanism" (Medellin), "citizenship culture" (Antanas Mockus), "positive deviance," some level of "self-help"/DIY, transit-sustainable mobility accessibility, etc. as philosophical foundations.

It means making schools function in part as community centers but also great schools, integrating UMC into a health care and wellness network, refashioning libraries into "Idea Stores" like in the Tower Hamlets borough, but with more employment services and higher education options, not just "adult learning," extending the hours of libraries and recreation centers and broadening the types of programs available, building community involvement into delivering recreation programming, creating "Community Safety Partnerships" for public housing, adding "self-help" and other programming to public housing, making libraries multifunction places.

Models like the Pounds Health Living Centre in Hampshire UK, Idea Stores, combo libraries in various places, Library Parks in Medellin, public escalators and gondola transit systems in Medellin, settlement houses, United Way neighborhoods program in Toronto, immigration integration in Marseille, Neighborhood Centers Inc. in Harris County, TX, various programs featured in the poverty reporting series by WCPO TV in Cinncinatti, etc.

At 12:56 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

RE: money, sure it is more about long term thinking and value than spending cash.

RE: "marshall plan"; yep I have no doubt that you can put together a 7500 word post with 40+ excellent examples of what we CAN do.

But it is a question of implementation and what government can do. Hard stuff, or rather simple stuff works.

Going back -- and I am no a Rhee cheerleader -- she made the analysis that the best you can do is replace teachers which might improve outcomes.

Not the best answer, but maybe all you can do.

It does break my heart to see kids so bored. I know I was in grade school. Of course I was reading at a high school level by Grade 3 so you can't do much about that. You might find this interesting:

You're not going to like his conclusions but it is an interesting tale.

Any thoughts on the shift in the Ward 1 shelter to 14th St?

At 1:12 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

2 things about the change. 1. It's way better for these shelters to be in well connected places, rather than in less well (transit) connected places. Commercial districts are easier to have more other services.

2. Theoretically, business interests are probably against BUT (and this gets back to your general point about what G is good at and what it isn't good at) my experience with a _well run, well managed_ shelter around the corner from where I lived (on the same block as the now Whole Foods on H St. NE) is that a facility with a set of specific clients, a program, oversight, etc., that for all intents and purposes, they had no negative impact on the neighborhood, you didn't even really know they were there, and that was a place embedded on a residential block (but with its back to the commercial district).

Ironically, it was the same manager, Coalition for the Homeless, implicated with all the problems at the DC General facility. But there -- the building was stage 2 of a three stage program -- it was great.

And that was by comparison to the building's previous use as an itinerant shelter, where the people are thrown out on the street each day to hang around and loiter etc.

2. that being said, people who knew better would blame that shelter for the public drinking and other problems on H Street, so even if it's run well, they won't necessarily get the credit for it.

At 1:53 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

like this:

2. wrt your point about Rhee, I think you nailed it, but I didn't see it. My concern about the firing teachers had to do with fairness to the teachers, and my belief that their poor performance was trained into them by the system. But if you want some measurable progress given limited other changes, I see your point.

there are other issues going on of course. Boredom sure. But maybe more important generally, disconnection and disaffectedness that is much deeper than "going to school."

The stuff the person wrote about disruptive students, I have no problem with. My only thing about in-school suspension vs. expulsion is you still want to help the kids learn, as much as it is possible and when they are expelled, you have zero chance.

OTOH, I just read a YA fiction book that touched on in-school suspension of a 7th grader, and I don't know how true to life it is, but the kids weren't doing any substantive learning, even though one of the kids was a high performer in suspension on a weird technicality.

At 3:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

RE: self selecting students

DC already has some examples of that — Ellington, School w/o Walls, Bannecker.

At 5:15 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

yep, but that isn't a particularly unique thing. Most urban school districts have selective schools in which students have to pass tests, etc., in order to get in.

This does make it harder for the neighborhood serving schools, who have to take everybody who qualifies.

At 5:18 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

NAACP DC Branch press release:

December 14, 2017


WASHINGTON, DC – The NAACP DC Branch advocates to ensure all students of color have access to an equal and high-quality public education through promoting equitable funding allocation, quality teachers, sufficient teacher support and parental engagement throughout the DC Public School System (DCPS).

The alleged attendance and graduation accountability issue spotlighted by the media is not isolated to Ballou High School and should not target Ballou. Similar allegations of administrators pressuring teachers to influence graduation attendance factors have arisen throughout the DCPS for many years.

NAACP DC Branch President, Akosua Ali, stated, “There are some excellent teachers at Ballou SHS that work tirelessly to ensure their students are prepared to succeed. Ballou SHS has some amazing, intelligent and extremely academically proficient students that excel in their studies and are ready to matriculate on to some of the best colleges and universities in the country. We must lift up the accomplishments and hard-work of the great students, teachers and alumni of Ballou SHS. We must lift up the accomplishments of our high performing Ballou SHS students, so we do not fail to recognize those students that are working hard and applying themselves academically.”

We should not target Ballou Senior High School, falsely branding it as an inferior institution. The problems faced by Ballou administrators, teachers and administrators are DC-wide and nationwide. Indeed, this issue occurs in many DCPS schools and is not isolated to Ballou SHS. We need to investigate and correct the policies that may influence DCPS teaching practices, grading and graduation. Graduating seniors and alumni of Ballou SHS will be applying to colleges, universities and vocational programs. All students, including academically high-performing students, deserve fair evaluations for admission into higher education programs, evaluations based on the hard work and promise of those students.

The NAACP DC Branch will testify at the DC City Council advocating the Office of State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) to conduct an independent investigation of DCPS policies on attendance, graduation, credit recovery, credit flexibility, teacher performance and school funding. We want assurance that all DCPS students are given the opportunity to graduate equipped to succeed in training programs or college without remediation to secure well-paying jobs. This investigation should heighten transparency between City officials, administrators, teachers and parents to improve the effectiveness, accountability and accessibility of the DC public school system. Secondly, the NAACP DC Branch encourages parental and community engagement in students’ academic success to the address attendance issues.

At 7:06 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Sorry, back to the shelter (we don't have another thread). I didn't realize it's to be on the 1400 block of Spring St. NW. I suppose that's an acceptable location. But it's not optimal.

But reiterates my previous nonplussedness that DC would sell the Jewish Home for the Aging (on the 1200 block of Spring St.), a very large building within easy walking distance of the Petworth Metro, to be redeveloped privately, while spending money willy nilly (but financially engineered) on distributed shelters across the city, many of which (at least the ones in W4 and W3 are poorly located vis a vis Metrorail).

From a niceness of setting standpoint, the 1400 block of Spring St. is superb. If all the environmental psychology stuff is to be believed about setting, this could be the best setting of the bunch.

It's close to Rock Creek Park, and even if not as close as I think it ought to be to Metrorail, it's on two major bus routes (14th and 16th) and about 1/2 mile to Columbia Heights Metro.

(When we were driving to the nursing/rehab facility in Mt. Pleasant, we took this stretch of Spring St. on our way to the facility. Coming back we always went out 17th St. NW to RCP/Piney Branch.)

At 12:30 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

sorry - my bad.

The new shelter is propose for 14th and Clifton.

The 1400 Spring Road site is being sold to SOME and they will rehab it as either affordable housing or maybe PSH.

At 12:38 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

well, i think connected/accessible is better than not. What do you think?


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