Public Boarding Schools for At-Risk Kids

If I'm reading this article correctly, these are for parents who cannot support their child's learning because of life circumstances. 

There is one charter school in D.C., the SEED Public Charter School of Washington, opened in 1998 that is a public boarding school for poor and academically at-risk students.  This chain also has one in Baltimore and one in Miami.  From the Associated Press:

The idea is for public boarding schools to put round-the-clock attention on students away from such daunting problems as poverty, troubled homes and truancy.

Supporters say such a dramatic step is necessary to get some students into an atmosphere that promotes learning, and worth the costs, estimated at $20,000 to $25,000 per student per year.

"We have teachers and union leaders telling us, 'The problem is with the homes; these kids are in dysfunctional homes,'" said Buffalo school board member Carl Paladino.

He envisions a charter boarding school in Buffalo where students as young as first or second grade would be assured proper meals, uniforms, after-school tutoring and activities.

"The SEED model includes academic, residential, mental health, physical health, social, and enrichment programs," explains Laura O'Connor, director of communications for the SEED Foundation. The school provides volunteer tutoring, extracurricular programs like robotics and cooking classes, and a scholarly environment where Facebook, MySpace, and television are forbidden.  

Naturally you read further and see that this school has a lower F/RL rate than nearby middle schools and a lower Sped rate.  A New York Times article in 2009 found that their attrition rate was between 20-30% for the first decade.  (That attrition rate has now gone down.)  Right, so if you can control who is in there, I'm sure you will do better. 

Where to start?  First, I'm having trouble believing that $20-25K covers school and boarding; it seems on the low end to me for 24-hour supervision.

SEED gets 94% of its budget from D.C. government with Title One funding and private funding covering the other 6%.   What's confusing to me is that the Greater Greater Washington article says this on costs:

The District's contribution includes about $10,000 per student for day school, plus another $25,000 per student for the boarding program.

Oh so overall, it's about $35K per student.  

"SEED's $25,000 is low when compared with other costs for serving many of the same children, such as foster care ($25,129 per child), Job Corps ($40,000 per young adult) or the $87,961 that states spend on average to incarcerate a juvenile per year," she points out.

Okay, that's true but how do we know that all these kids in these boarding schools - whose parents have to seek this out voluntarily - would have ended up in those other programs?  What we do know is know that motivated parents - of any ilk - tend to have kids who do better than parents who are not motivated.  

SEED would like to see their schools in every urban school district in the country.  

There were two interesting comments from the AP story.

First comment (bold mine):
My son will soon be graduating from a public Charter High School (in Los Angeles). There are 4,600 students in that school. There is currently a waiting list of more than 2,000 students at this school, hoping to get in. This school has some of the highest test scores in the nation's academic decatholon team has won the national championship title, 4 out of the last 7 years. 

What is this school's secret???? Each parent and student must sign a 6 pg. written agreement that spells-out very clearly the rules they must follow, if their child is to remain in good standing as a student. One rule says that if a child misses 15 days of instruction (without written documentation of a medical problem...from a real doctor), they will automatically fail their classes.For any type of fighting, disruption in the classroom, posession of illegal substances, vandalism, etc. etc...that child will be expelled immediately. Character and personal responsibility (on the part of both the parents and the students) is insisted upon, at all times. Parents/students who refuse to sign-off on this contract (every year) are denied admission.

 If more public schools were run like this, you would see a lot more academic success.When troublemakers are allowed to be removed from the "academic picture," everyone benefits. Why not have a few schools where the chronic trouble-makers can be isolated and kept away from those who are serious about getting a real education? Also, teachers are paid quite a bit more at this school, but more is expected of them.
Second comment:
While getting kids completely out of the broken culture of the inner cities will work, it is worth remembering that well-intentioned social engineers tried this with American Indian children. 

The two things take away from that program were that the underlying motive back then was "Christian" religious indoctrination and that to a large extent the programs worked. What did not work well was the loss of cultural heritage and the creation of identity issues for the children. 

Perhaps if we are careful in how we do this and keep it free from bible thumping moralists, it might be worth a try. In order for it to succeed however, it must be year round and immersive. There must be no opportunity for gang/drug influence to creep back into the program.
 I have to wonder what happens to the kids who do not stay in these schools or are kicked out? 


Anonymous said…
The Native American "residential" schools, both here and in Canada, were the first thing that came to mind when I read this. Ugh.
Granted, those usually had a bit more of a religious theme, but still.

In a similar vein, see the movie Rabbit-Proof Fence.

dan dempsey said…
Before thinking UGH on all residential schools for Native Americans see =>

Lummi Youth Academy

Anonymous said…
I was thinking historically - all the kids pulled from their families on the reservation and sent to boarding school. Growing up in Arizona, this was a huge deal, and I have some distant Ute relatives who are still bitter and hateful towards the gov't and the local authorities for this reason, and justly so.

There are still a few boarding programs for Native Americans (mostly Navajo) in AZ too, but these are usually because they live so far out on the reservation it would be a 2-3 hour trip each way to get to school.

But I worry about how this all starts. What if the local authorities decide your family is "at risk" or "dysfunctional" and your child is "sent" to a boarding charter school because it is deemed a better placement than your family? It all starts someplace. So, like all educational fads, I tread cautiously, and history has shown all of these fads can easily be perverted from their original intent.

Anonymous said…
Jeez, if the problem is poverty, why not just give the families an extra $25k?


JT, a number of the comments on this story said the same thing. Don't take the kids out of their home (with family), help the family become more stable.
Jet City mom said…
If the schools would write and follow effective IEPs, they could save a lot of money and the families would be healthier.
Jet City mom said…
im reading " academically at risk", to be code for a mild , perhaps undiagnosed disability.
Like my daughters file read " specific learning disability", but it didn't specify!
dan dempsey said…
Many kids at Lummi Youth Academy live there during the school week and then at home for the weekend.

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