School Turnarounds Prompt Community Backlash

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With high schools, researchers did not have academic data to parse, so instead looked at attendance rates, which are often a good indicator of performance, de la Torre said. Attendance rates improved in the first year of a turnaround, but then reverted to pre-turnaround rates. “We can’t really say if the glass is half full or half empty,” de la Torre said.

A study released last May found graduation rates and college-prep course participation increased dramatically at a Los Angeles high school in the Watts section taken over by charter Green Dot Public Schools in 2008. The National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards and Student Testing called the new Locke High School “an impressive success story in many ways,” but noted overall achievement remains low.

To boost academic performance, Green Dot now plans to revamp its ninth-grade curriculum to offer more remedial help and open a middle school to better prepare kids for high school.

With no guarantee that turnarounds produce solid results quickly, some question whether drastic reform is worth the disruption, and whether less radical changes could work as well given adequate time and funding.

“We take issue with experimental reforms such as these when it is only children of color who are the subject of the experiment and especially when the experiment has already failed,” wrote Jonathan Stith of Empower DC in his federal complaint about Washington D.C. schools.

Staff replacements have proven especially problematic at schools where teachers have to reapply for their jobs. Many don’t reapply out of resentment and it’s hard to find experienced teachers who want to work in an urban classroom.

A study by the National Education Policy Center found that in turnaround schools in Louisville, Ken., 40 percent of teachers were fresh out of college. Other reformed schools have had to start off with substitutes.

“Teachers are like their surrogate parents,” said Christina Lewis, a special education teacher at Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles, where teachers will have to reapply for jobs in the fall when the school is converted to a magnet. “I’m so afraid that teachers who have put their hearts and souls into their jobs won’t return next year. We just need stability and resources.”

Experts also note that impoverished children often rely on schools for meals, positive role models, and mentors for personal issues, as well as education. Trust built with familiar faces in the school community gets severed by drastic reforms, said John Rogers, director at the University of California Los Angeles’ Institute for Democracy, Education and Access.

Several students at Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles, where teachers must reapply for their jobs when the school is converted to a magnet program next fall, said it was disconcerting not to know who or what to expect.

“We have a lot of kids in foster care. Their lives are changing all the time,” said Crenshaw student Anita Parker. “We have teachers who ask me if I need to talk. We have teachers who care about us.”

The prospect of a civil rights complaint does not faze Los Angeles Unified Superintendent John Deasy, who has several high schools on his turnaround list. For Deasy, the real civil rights issue is that these schools have been allowed to fail for so long.

Crenshaw High School, the turnaround that is spurring community advocates to file the complaint, is the lowest performing school in the nation’s second-largest system, a fact that Deasy called “immoral” at a recent school board meeting.

Just three percent of students are proficient in math and 17 percent in reading. Just 37 percent of students attend school 96 percent of the time. Just half of the class of 2012 graduated.

“Students aren’t learning. Students aren’t graduating,” he said. “The purpose of this decision is to make sure Crenshaw gets dramatically and fundamentally better.”

School board member Marguerite P. LaMotte, the board’s only black member who represents the Crenshaw area, said she was angry that every effort to reform Crenshaw had gone nowhere and civil rights was about improving the school: “We have got to change something at Crenshaw for the better.”

(Photo: AP)

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4 thoughts on “School Turnarounds Prompt Community Backlash

  1. I have a simple solution to all of this….PARENTS. Parents do not send their children to school prepared and ready to learn. Most kindergarten students can’t even identify or write the letters of their names. Some call every animal with four legs and a tail a dog. The schools can only work with the hand they have been dealt. For example: how can I ask you to make peanut butter cookies when the only ingredients I give you are for chocolate chip cookies? Parents send schools the ingredients for chocolate chip cookies and the DOE wants peanut butter cookies. Until states tie rewards and penalties to parents for their child’s test scores, you will not see change. If parents thought that they were going to get cash rewards for their children’s high test scores, you would see better behaved children, better prepared children, and better attendance. Vice-versa with penalties. The state could withhold financial assistance or suspend drivers licenses. The government could garnish income tax refunds from the parents of low performing children to help pay for extra time and tutoring spent on their child. That would wake a few people up.

  2. People should know and understand this about Education Secretary Duncan and President Obama: Early on, their plan was to reform schools by recruiting and training better school Administrators. They quickly abandoned this plan – concluded it was undoable/hopeless. So instead of getting at the root of the problem (poor leadership), they’ve turned to bashing teachers and tearing apart schools with massive (and pointless) restructuring in order to look like they are doing something. These restructures simply have not worked in the past and appear to who few signs of providing any meaningful help now. The problem is POOR LEADERSHIP in our schools. Fix that, and our schools will improve. Ignore it, and all Duncan is doing is wasting everyone’s time with temporary band-aid measures that don’t work over the long haul.

  3. There is a fundamental flaw with the entire argument put forth by opponents of the current school reform initiative, including the “Turn-Around” model. That flaw is: Why are they crying foul now? I worked in a school with Jitu Brown in 2006 that was part of a school reform initiative similar to the turn-around model. That initiative was the “small schools within a school” model and the school was South Shore School of Entrepreneurship. Mr. Brown was a community service provider and he was very happy to pimp the system that was pimping our kids: The Bill and Malinda Gates Foundation. You see the Gates Foundation was pumping money into an experimental model in Chicago and a few other school districts until they found out (through their own data) that it was not working.

    Now the Gates foundation and others (the Walton Foundation and the Broad Foundation) have re-packaged school reform into a plethora of other experiments including charter schools and the turn-around model. However, this experimental pimping was predicted years ago, but it fell on deaf ears (including Jitu Brown’s). When President Obama was elected four years ago, his first choice for Secretary of Education was his basketball buddy and neighbor Arne Duncan. What many didn’t realize is that Duncan used to sit on the board of the Broad Foundation, and when he was CEO of Chicago Public Schools he became a very strong advocate for Alternative Certification of Teachers (I call many of them, teachers without credibility); Charter Schools (the educational disenfranchisement of our Black and Brown children); and the turn-around model (the greatest of the reform jokes). If Duncan was for them then, did Mr. Brown not think that he was going to push that same agenda from Washington?

    What Mr. Jitu Brown and other opponents fail to realize is that they have already endorsed the turn-around school model in their failure to recognize how they were being pimped during the inception of the reform movement. The issue is much larger than what Mr. Brown is shouting about and their shouts will fall on deaf ears. You see, the President of the CPS board of education is the founder of a charter school network: Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL). The former co-founder of AUSL is a top administrator in CPS; and AUSL has been operating the turn-around schools initiative for the past seven years …the very schools that Mr. Brown is fighting against. This is something that I tried to warn Mr. Brown of in 2006 (he probably doesn’t remember South Shore’s Small School within a School model), but he shouted me down that it was the best thing since the Emancipation Proclamation for African American kids. I guess now he also realized that Lincoln didn’t free the slaves out of sympathy…rather out of necessity.

    Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not totally against charter schools and school reform. However, in relation to charter schools, I believe that success should be replicated. The problem with AUSL is that they cannot boast any success. For example, AUSL is one of the largest and the oldest charter networks in the city of Chicago, but they have consistently (as a network) failed to meet adequate yearly progress. Out of all of their charter schools, only one has met AYP and their oldest charter school has NEVER met AYP. But CPS is willing to put the fox (AUSL) in charge of the henhouse (CPS). The Turn-Around Schools Initiative is not any better. They are simply a bureaucratic wing of CPS that receives double the budget to pay idiots who have never taught a class a day in their lives; but try to tell teachers how to teach. Even when you look at the turn-around schools and their data, you don’t see any marked improvement. Most often they will see minimal to modest gains over the first three to four years; then the score begin to plateau. For example Harper High School is the oldest turn-around high school. Currently only 12% of students at Harper High School are meeting AYP in Reading and Language Arts; while only 8.5% of students at Harper are meeting AYP in math. Couple this information with a graduation rate of only 47%. Harper has been a turn-around school for the past seven years. But they failed to turn around the socioeconomic and psychosocial problems of the neighborhoods. So what makes the model a success when all of their data shows otherwise?

    So Mr. Jitu Brown is correct in his assertion that the turn-around schools model is creating instability in our schools and community, but Mr. Brown didn’t heed my warning in 2006. At that time I implored that he read the book by Sanford Reitman: The Educational Messiah Complex. In 1992, Reitman predicated everything that is happening now in education in relation to school reform. Mr. Brown failed to realize this when he was happy to get his grant money and contracts from Arne Duncan when he was CEO, so now they think that Duncan is going to give some credence to their plight….REALLY? So what are we going to do about the experimental pimping of our children? In the coming years, CPS will have a student population of 90% African America, while African American teachers will struggle to comprise 50% of the workforce. Now is the time that we really wake up Mr. Brown and see the larger picture. It’s all about the MONEY and RACE.

    “The ink of a scholar is worth more than the blood of a martyr”

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