Archive for the ‘Failing Schools’ category

Judgment at Central Falls Part 3

February 20, 2010

Central Falls Police Sgt. Wayne Solan carries a shotgun at the main entrance of Central Falls High School

[Continued from Part 2]

It was a wet Rhode Island Monday April 28, 2008 when Maida Lopez entered Central Falls High School.   There were already over 40 parents in a chaotic jumble in the main office trying to find their children so they could bring them home from school for the day.   The city of Central Falls has big city problems.  In the 1980s, it was called the cocaine capital of New England, but it was still a postage stamp size town of just over a square mile.   Over the weekend, two teenage boys had been shot and killed including 16-year-old Central Falls student Edelmiro Roman who was found unarmed at the corner of Dexter and Darling Streets, possibly in retaliation for the killing of a 19-year-old boy the night before.  This is life in Central Falls.

I won’t paint the town as overly bleak.  Like anywhere in America, the vast majority of the people here are hardworking and trying to get by.  The town’s median income is only $22,000 and many of the residents are immigrants from all over the world.   Central Falls Guidance Counselor George McLaughlin says, “There is an odd sort of respect in that school for teachers.”  He points out that while kids will sometimes spout an obscenity at a teacher, they will put a “sir” at the end of it.

Central Falls High School has the most transient student population in the state, the highest percentage of students who don’t speak English and a high percentage of special-needs students. More than 90 percent of students live in poverty.  This isn’t to say the students aren’t capable, but when you grow up in this environment, you usually have more important things on your mind than who to ask to the prom.   Teachers are constantly adjusting and readjusting to classes that don’t end the year with many of the students who began the year.   Transient students are also far more likely to drop out and as a result Central Falls has had their graduation rate suffer.

Despite difficult circumstances these teachers are making a difference.   It simply isn’t in the political interests of the district to acknowledge it.   Disraeli is credited with the famous quote,  “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.”

When Superintendent Gallo points to standardized test scores that supposedly show Central Falls failing she doesn’t point out, on the 2009 NECAP reading scores (teaching year), Central Falls is right in the middle of the state’s large urban high schools. At 56% proficiency they are behind the lower-poverty ones (Tolman, 64%; Shea, 62%; Woonsocket, 60%), tied with The MET and Providence Academy for International Studies, and ahead of Central (51%), Hope Leadership (49%), Hope IT (47%), and Alvarez (44%) in Providence.

The Hope schools are of particular note since they went through a “fire the teachers” restructuring process a few years ago. There is no particular reason to expect the results of Central Falls restructuring to be any different.  Now, I don’t believe that standardized tests show you much outside of household income, but Central Falls ranking among similar schools is never mentioned nor is the fact that these same students at Central Falls only had 22% proficiency on the 7th grade tests, 5 years earlier.

Students at Central Falls do the same things that dedicated teachers in all urban districts do.   They help take over some of the responsibilities that would be taken care of by parents in more affluent communities–including providing clothing, food, and support when parents are unable too.  They make the best of a bad situation and they try and produce scholars.   Sometimes, the burdens are too much and they succeed only in producing solid citizens.   Sometimes, the best you can do is provide a safe place for 7 hours a day where a student can be warm and fed.   The teachers who can do these things day in and day out deserve respect and admiration.   Instead they usually get vitriol.   In the final part of this series, I will explain why Central Falls is so important to the future of education in this country.

[Continued in Part 4]


Chicago’s Guggenheim Elementary School

February 4, 2010

Kara Crutcher with Amanda Patterson from Gwendolyn Brooks High School

Chicago’s Guggenheim Elementary School is a failing school.  By failing I mean that Guggenheim is located in a poor black neighborhood where many of the students have trouble making the grade on culturally biased standardized tests.  Guggenheim is located in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago.   If you google it you’ll see plenty of talk about gangs, crime, violence and drugs.   It’s really easy to get caught up in all that and not see what’s really going at Guggenheim.

Last week, I came across an email at from a student named Kara Crutcher who attended Guggenheim and was now at the University of Pennsylvania.  This struck me by surprise.  It’s a long way from 71st and Morgan to the Ivy League.   I began to do some searching and I found Kara’s email.   After a few email exchanges, I interviewed her for Substance.   This girl has it so together–she’s brilliant, community minded, and not afraid to express herself.   When I was her age, I was still a Republican.  I interviewed Kara thinking of her as the rose among the asphalt.  She was proof that students could go to Guggenheim and make something of herself.  I was wrong.  The miracle is not Kara–brilliance and compassion not withstanding.   The miracle is Guggenheim.

I recommend you read this girl’s amazing interview, but while you’re visiting Substance take a look at the comments.   Another former Guggenheim says, “it was by far the most positive education environment we could have been in at the elementary school level. hands on administrators and teachers who cared about what they taught and how they taught. yes it is important that students achieve academically but in a time when youth have so few places to turn for care and support dismantling one place in the community that parents and students feel they have a voice is the wrong way to go about “school reform.”

Josef Canning is an actor in Los Angeles who graduated from Guggenheim 40 years ago.   He flew back to Chicago so he could speak at  a hearing on closing the school last night.   The alumni area speaking loudly and clearly with one voice to testify to exactly how much this school meant to them.   Perhaps, the most impressive has been the current students who have spoken in favor of the school.   According to Substance’s Kristine Mayle, “Each student spoke with passion, eloquence, and vocabularies that proved that the students of Guggenheim are, in fact, receiving a great education.”

Even Jesse Jackson was blown away by the public speaking abilities of one of the Guggenheim students and called him a future star.  This is the real miracle.   This school is a family and an educational community.  Guggenheim is everything that is great about the American education system.   If education reform means doing away with schools like this one then how can it possibly be good for this country?

At the end of It’s a Wonderful Life, they spell out the morale when they tell us, “No man is a failure who has friends”.  As former Guggenheim students come back to pay allegiance to the school that meant so much to them, I’m reminded of that final scene in that classic Christmas movie.  No school is a failure that has students like these.

[Editor’s Note: I am happy to report that Guggenheim has been spared from destruction.  Unfortunately, another 10 schools in Chicago are still slated for closing or turnaround next year.  I will continue to fight to save them and I have been assured by the people at Guggenheim that they will too.   In fact, their alderman Latasha Thomas has arranged for a City Council hearing on the closings tomorrow.  It’s nonbinding so I’m not expecting a miracle, but any show of solidarity would be a big help.]