Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Where the Theory Meets the Practice

There was an excellent article in the Baltimore Sun on Saturday (thank you to whoever for the link) about the impossibility of applying NCLB to those schools that serve kids in jail. Turns out, their minds aren’t really on passing the test:

The Eager Street Academy is a Baltimore public school behind bars, with the most troubled student body in the city. Nonetheless, its staff has the impossible job of complying with the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Located in the Baltimore City Detention Center, the school's approximately 130 students - ages 14 to 17 - are charged as adults in some of the city's most notorious killings and other crimes.

Many of them had dropped out of school before landing in prison, and about a quarter come in reading at a second-grade level.

No Child Left Behind requires schools to give annual standardized tests to all their students, and all students must demonstrate proficiency in reading and math by 2014.


The state uses the scores of a handful of kids to calculate whether Eager Street has made adequate yearly progress. The calculation can be made using the scores of as few as five students, those who were enrolled early in the school year and are still around on testing day. Generally, that means they are the students facing the most severe criminal charges.

The test results for all students are posted online and printed in the newspaper: a failure rate of 100 percent this year in seventh- and eighth-grade math and high school algebra and government.

"It shows us at zero," said Scofield, a veteran city schools administrator. "It looks as if we're doing nothing."

Eager Street students, all but a handful of them boys, have had extraordinarily difficult lives, Scofield said: A "huge" number have been abandoned by parents. A 16-year-old who recently enrolled hadn't been to school since fourth grade, when his mother pulled him out to support the family by any means necessary, including selling drugs.

Students can leave Eager Street if a judge releases them or lessens the criminal charges and moves them to the Baltimore City Juvenile Justice Center. Otherwise, they stop school on the day they turn 18, when they are moved to the prison's adult wing.

"If I just got locked up, got my freedom taken away, if I'm facing 10 years and I'm 15 or 16 and I'm worried about turning 18 and going to the adult side and getting raped, I'm not thinking about a test," Scofield said.

No Child Left Behind requires schools to test all students in reading and math annually from third through eighth grades and once in high school. In addition, Maryland requires students to pass high school graduation exams in algebra, biology, English and government.

Eager Street is the only school of its kind in the state. Elsewhere in Maryland, the Department of Juvenile Services, not the public school system, educates incarcerated students. Most DJS facilities don't have enough students enrolled for multiple months to get an adequate yearly progress ranking.


The school occupies two cramped but well-kept trailers in the prison parking lot, locked behind numerous fences and gates. Wearing camouflage pants or green jumpsuits that say "JUVENILE" across the back, students attend classes from 8:45 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. on weekdays, except for the dozen or so in protective custody. Teachers deliver their work to their cells. About six more who are involved in gangs have a separate classroom.

Opportunities for extracurricular activities are limited, though Dugger volunteers after school to teach yoga.

There are two social workers, and staff is lobbying to get a school nurse.

One day last month, Scofield pulled a boy out of class after learning that his mother had died that day.

"A lot of these children are emotionally scarred," Scofield said. "They're socially unprepared. They feel violence is the norm because that's what they've seen. We have to address their social and emotional needs first."

A couple of questions pop to mind:

  1. Are the scores of these schools held against the districts that they are apart of? I’m guessing yes, but that seems terribly unfair.
  2. Doesn’t it seem like the NCLB sanctions would be completely meaningless to a school like this? I can’t think of a single one that would make a difference.

Where I grew up, in Rochester, the Maple Lane School was a part of our district, just a quarter-mile away from the elementary school. When I was real little I thought it was weird that they had a big fence all around them and wondered why I didn’t know anyone who went there; later on I found out that Maple Lane is where kids went after they had been convicted of a crime. I actually knew a couple of teachers who worked there; it was a reasonably popular summer job for people in the district to go and do a couple of summer classes. Their 2006 WASL pass rates:

Reading: 32.8%
Math: 5.5%
Writing: 20.7%
Science: 5.5%

Then down the road in Chehalis you had Green Hill, which looked like a bad place to be. Ugly cinderblocks compared to Maple Lane’s rather nice campus, with a great view of I-5 and not a whole lot else going for it. Their pass rates:

Reading: 28.6%
Math: 2.4%
Writing: 21.1%
Science: 0.0%

I give all the credit in the world to the teachers who have the will to work with these kids; that's the very definition of a Sisyphian task.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder, though, if we looked at military schools if their results would be better than typical schools.

Seems like an interesting control group, for they would have less variation in income, but greater minority representation.

I bet they beat the average achievement.

Put them next to GH and ML and perhaps some might come to the dawning realization that resources, race or wealth are less relevant than motivation and character.


4:03 PM  
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5:15 AM  

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