Saturday, May 26, 2007

Seattle Magazine Article on Dropouts

This article is in this month's Seattle Magazine about drop-outs. I find quite a few problems with it.

One, the author, Carol Tice, says that there has been leadership turnover in SPS and that made it hard to implement new ideas. And that is based on what? There is leadership turnover at many districts throughout the state and the nation. Frankly, I think people get tired of "the latest thing" and actually would prefer to laser focus on maybe 3 things. Whether you agree with me or not, I'm not sure how she can support that assertion.

Two, she says that the population of SPS has a higher percentage of minority students than the general population because of the large numbers of parents choosing private schools. Okay. Then, she staates,

"Observers also say there’s a lack of openness to new programs that work for minority students."

I love when reporters say "observers". Who are these people and why should I place my faith in their observations? I also read that statement to be speaking of TAF.

Then the VP for the Alliance for Education says this:

“We have only around 40 percent of our kids signing up for free or reduced lunch. So you would sort of expect we’d have higher graduation rates. But we don’t.”

Only 40 percent? That seems pretty darn high and what needs to be pointed out is that we have a fairly high number of schools, concentrated in the south end, that have upwards of 50%+ free/reduced lunch AND minority students. When you get those two issues lining up, the challenges are huge. It just can't be overlooked.

The next quote from the article I found lacking:

"The Silent Epidemic, a national survey of hundreds of dropouts commissioned by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation last year, echoes the findings of many studies before it. Kids drop out because schools lack three things: rigor, relevance and relationships."

(Note: I blogged about The Silent Epidemic a couple of weeks back if you want more info.) Rigor, relevance and relationships is Gates' interpretation of the survey results. If you look at what is posted on their website, the reasons are classes are not interesting, too many missed days anyway, not enough discipline to keep them in school, failing school and needing to have a job. What might (and might is their word) have kept them in school might be stated as rigor, relevance and relationships. It bothers me that Mr. Gates wants people to believe his wording as some sort of educational gospel.

Further a good point is made in talking about a program in Lakewood,

"There’s also no remedial math at Clover Park, as there is in most state high schools; all 9th graders take algebra and receive extra tutoring and extended classes if they need it. He says this is crucial, as college success rates are poor for students who don’t take three years of advanced high school math, including second-year algebra. “This is an equity and social-justice issue,” he says. “If where you were placed in math in 6th grade puts you on a track that doesn’t get you access to college, that’s just not right.”

That's true. Kids need support every step of the way in the form of some sort of educational triage.

The reporter gets her labelling wrong in this statement:

"Most alternative schools—which primarily serve former dropouts and students who are at risk for dropping out—don’t have this kind of success. In fact, Seattle’s Santorno began a districtwide review of alternative school programs last February. Most have dismal graduation rates—for instance, 30 percent for John Marshall High School, currently slated to close next year."

If she's describing SPS, then the label would be re-entry. Our alternative schools are not mostly serving former dropouts and students at risk. Also, in a recent article in the NY Times, it was stated that, overall, reentry high schools do a better job of getting kids to graduation than shuffling them around from high school to high school.

The article further discusses TAF's efforts and truancy. There was a good front-page article on truancy in the Seattle Weekly a few issues back that's worth reading because it's a complicated subject (depending on the student).

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

So what is the plan for John Marshall's students after closure? The district will still be required to serve them, like it or not. A 30% graduation rate from this population would be stellar performance, if true. Having these students dispersed around the district will be a cost of the "save my personal school at the expense of schools without parent lobbiests."

Melissa Westbrook said...

This is one of my biggest disappointments as a member of the CAC. We turned this issue over to staff because we were not authorized nor in the position of having the best knowledge in terms of this program(s) and its placement.

Clouding this issue:
-poorly done "program review" complete with allowing a Times reporter to tag along one day
-Marshall insisting its programs have to stay together (Evening School could go to any middle or high school near public transportation.).
-Marshall's principal who is a bright guy but who has operated unfettered and now is crying foul when the district wants to really see what is happening in the building.
-In the South Lake BEX minutes, it reflected talk about moving Marshall's students there (and, I guess, just having one re-entry program which is a bad idea). I spoke to the principal and she said there would not be room (and the modest $14M rebuild price seems to reflect that).

My belief is that staff wants to close the John Marshall building and relocate/consolidate its programs. If that's the case, they need to make the case, give viable options and get on with it. The fact that it is still up in the air is troubling.

Anonymous said...

I read the Seattle magazine article yesterday. You can quibble with the author's approach and split hairs, but at the end of the day, we're still left with that troubling statistic of only 61% of Seattle public school kids graduating on time.

I've appreciated reading the strings about TAF - what about the Gates Foundation? To me, it appears the district doesn't want to play nice/work collaboratively with outside groups who are offering innovation/improvement. The district always appears to walk away from the table with a sense of smugness and "we told you so" without having made a sincere attempt to embrace improvements in the first place.

It's embarassing to me, as a Seattle citizen and school parent, to have so many educational innovations coming from our region (via Gates, TAF, UW, etc), and to have such low graduation rates and a chaotic school district at the same time.

DG