Monday, November 30, 2009

On the State Taking Over Failing Schools

One of the "assurances" required from states looking to participate in the Race to the Top moneygrab is that the state be allowed to take over persistently failing schools. You can read thoughts from the Partnership for Learning here and the League of "Education" Voters here.

It's one of those things that sounds easy enough on the face of it. "Of course the state should take over failing schools!", the argument goes, "If the districts can't solve their own problems, then Olympia should send in someone who can!"

Let me follow that up with this question: why are our juvenile institutions so terrible?

I've been playing around with the high school rankings from the Evergreen Freedom Foundation. They've rank ordered 359 high schools in the state, which is most all of them. By their metric, the worst two high schools in Washington are Maple Lane High School of Rochester (#358) and the Green Hill School of Chehalis (#359).

What do they have in common, besides geography? They're reform schools for juvenile delinquents.

Every one of these kids gets three hots and a cot. Every one of these kids has a roof over their head. What they watch on TV--indeed, how much TV they watch--is controlled. There's a nice big yard, for exercise! Supervision? It's there in spades! Nutrition? The Department of Corrections has nutritionists on staff who do nothing but think about what their clients should be eating. Every variable that can be controlled, is controlled. This is school takeover writ large.

And it's for shit. Why? I'd suggest it's because the kids who come to those schools come with baggage. They've obviously made some very poor decisions over the course of their short lives. About 20% have "significant" mental illness like conduct disorder, and we know from research that most come from disfunctional families.

What can we learn from this, then? I think the take home lesson is that you simply can't control for every variable, and that the nature of kids being kids means that there are going to be issues. God bless KIPP for what they've done, but even they have kids who fall through the cracks. It sounds like Teach for America is able to attract many high quality candidates into the classroom, but even then only 34% stay at their school for a third year.

Show me a broken school, and I'll show you broken kids. The question is, when did the cracks begin, and for both, how do you start the repairs?

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Blogger Angela Watson said...

"Show me a broken school, and I'll show you broken kids. The question is, when did the cracks begin, and for both, how do you start the repairs?"

This might be the most profound expression of that sentiment that I've ever read. Well done.

6:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I work at a school that fits this description and I agree. We do make tremendous academic progress-like taking a child who can't read to reading-sometimes five grade levels in math or reading in one year. But we still don't make AYP!!! We also give them a highly structured environment, individual and family therapy, a one to four ratio of teacher/ student, for non-readers it is one student to one teacher, a class in character development.... and much more. And we still don't make AYP. Need I say more?

9:34 AM  

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