It's sad because there, as here in Washington state, schools were compelled to revamp and come up with "transformation" plans. But it seems that there was so much going into planning and not enough into resources, students didn't get much further.
From the article:
"Instead, their statistics look a lot like results from the lumbering, impersonal high schools they are supposed to replace. Lots of students quit, and most of the graduates aren't ready for the rigors of college.
At Marshall and Roosevelt high schools in Portland, which each house three academies, about half of their students didn't make it to graduation. That's the same low graduation rate as when they were two big schools instead of six small academies.
"At first, I loved going to school," says Victoria Sargent, 17, who attended Pauling Academy, a science- and math-focused school on the Marshall campus. "After a while, it was boring to me. Nothing was a challenge. I never had a connection with teachers."How, if the school (and hopefully, the classes) were smaller, was there not a better connection with the teacher?
The answer may be here:
"She and other students say administrators seemed so caught up in tinkering with the small schools' structure that they didn't pay enough attention to the quality of teaching."
"Administrators say students at both schools pose special challenges to educate. For instance, at BizTech on the Marshall campus, 76 percent of students come from low-income families. At the Spanish-English International School at Roosevelt, 82 percent of students are low-income. Officials say many of these students enter high school less prepared than their counterparts at other high schools, and many work part time to help support their families."
"Gates Foundation leaders also have grown impatient at the uneven results when big schools break into small ones. This fall, Gates probably will switch the focus of its grants for fixing high schools to target teaching and raise teacher quality, says Vicki Phillips, former Portland superintendent who now directs Gates' education initiatives.
"We have learned that small by itself is not enough," Phillips says. "Good curriculum and instruction don't just show up. . . We need to get more dramatic results."
"Organizers put so much emphasis on school structure and small details of the reorganization that the caliber of teaching became secondary.
At Liberty, for example, Principal Gregg O'Mara says E3 kept pressing him to make the small schools more independent from one another. Partly for that reason, the school reorganized twice in the past four years. Starting this fall, he says, Liberty will focus on getting every teacher to collaborate with colleagues on better teaching and student outcomes.
Leadership also has been a problem. Top-notch schools typically require top-notch principals. But school districts cannot afford to pay multiple principals at one high school the same high salary as they pay the principal of a big high school.
As a result, many small high schools are run by lower-paid, less-experienced administrators. That has led to high turnover, and at some schools, confusion among teachers and students about who is in charge."
What did they all learn?"The lessons for other high schools are sobering. Even with millions of dollars for teacher training, an army of experts to coach schools and the backing of the Northwest's top philanthropies, fixing high schools so they work for all students remains a formidable and elusive task."
"We definitely need different environments to meet the needs of different kids," she (Portland superintendent Carole Smith)says."
"In addition, E3 has not been clear about the results it wants from small schools. There are no performance targets or timelines for schools, and the group has not defined what makes a student "college ready. E3 leaders admit they were naive about how easy change would be. They learned the hard way that they can't overhaul schools without more backing from superintendents and district administrators. They also are providing more teacher training, particularly in reading and math."
For me it points to a lot of effort for very little results. A lot of experimenting despite the fact that kids aren't experiments. It points to the fact that even the great Bill Gates doesn't know everything about education and that his own Foundation is a little red-faced over how hard it is to create change that works. We find that if we don't have clear expectations (and how is it we keep going around and around in this country about what a high school graduate should leave high school with?) that both schools and students get lost.