When “bad” schools close

March 12, 2010 at 12:35 am 19 comments

I can’t find the link, but I was just reading today about a couple schools out East somewhere (Maine maybe?)  A quick search of the Internet revealed a ton of links to schools closing and people protesting.

In this case, the school was severely underperforming and had a very low graduation rate.  Similar to what we see in Chicago in many high schools.  The state decided to close the school and re-open with teachers having to interview.  So in theory, they’re saying “something isn’t working and we have to start fresh.”  Same plan as in Chicago in a few schools.

So in this school, the entire community is mad as hell and protesting the re-inventing process.  They say the teachers were wonderful and caring and inspiring.  It sounds like they were.  Yet the kids are all reading at levels WAY below state standards and generally don’t seem to be ready to enter the world after high school.

Why do people want to keep their underperforming schools as is?  Am I nuts to place a value on academics and not just nicey-nicey behavior?

A similar thing supposedly happened at Prescott.  The principal took a “no-nonsense” approach to shaping up the school, which drew ire from the teachers and families who’d been around for a while and loved their school despite underperformance.   I loved the quote from someone in a story about Prescott who said something like “the tragedy isn’t what is happening NOW, it’s that the school was allowed to operate so long with poor performance!”

Why is it that more families aren’t outraged about the low test scores, etc in these schools, but are outraged when they’re shut down or changed significantly?

I mean I “get it”, but then I also don’t get it.

Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

Trying to figure out what happened with SE High Schools Those letter are coming soon…

19 Comments Add your own

  • 1. not so hopeful anymore  |  March 12, 2010 at 10:06 am

    If you look at how all the turnaround schools in Chicago are doing, you will find that 70%+ are doing about the same or worse than they were doing before being “turned around”. Research does not support what is currently happening by replacing old staff with new staff. Of the schools that have done better, many have changed their student population, increased the length of the school day, and brought in additional funding.

    Schools that are failing are failing because parents are not doing their part. Show me a failing school where every parent is involved, makes sure homework is done and done correctly, and takes responsibility for the behavior of their children. Are there any?

    Parents who are happier with the status quo than academics are going to be happy with the status quo because THEY DON’T WANT to do the hard work of parenting.

  • 2. kg  |  March 12, 2010 at 11:10 am

    I agree that the job of schools is to educate, not “make nice”. I’ve seen the news stories of CPS schools where only 3-4% kids are reading at grade level, but where parents and teachers insist that things are just great and picket and protest to keep “OUR school” open –but why do people want to even send their kids to such clearly failing school? I know people will think I’m being too ____ (fill in the negative adjective) when I say this, but when there’s a long, unending history of educational dysfunction, parents and students don’t even know what a good education is supposed to be, so thay believe quasi-functional schools are just fine because they like the teachers, the “principal is really nice”, their friend’s kid went there “and now she’s about to graduate from college!”, “achievement tests are flawed and don’t reflect what a ‘good’ is supposed to be”, etc. –so how dare Huberman and other “outsiders” tell us what’s good for OUR kids! My own experience is one of growing up in a gritty working class community with some of the worst public schools in my home state. Somehow, most people thought their kids’ schools were really good. Sadly, I think it’s because parents mainly didn’t know any better, since it’s not like they went to good schools or were educated beyond high school or grade school in many cases. Imagine if you’re a HS drop-out with a 5th grade reading level –the work your kids do at school might seem impressive and make you proud, even if would never pass muster in Naperville. My neighbor (a grade school drop-out from Appalachia) used to brag to me that her daughter “was studying GEOMETRY!!”, which to him seemed she was like doing higher level physics at MIT. His daughter (a friend of mine) was so over her head in college (a regular, non-competetive commuter school) that she dropped out at the end of her freashman year and never went back. 20 years on, she still works in a grocery store –here dream of becoming a psychologist forever gone because of really bad academic preparation. Can anybody imagine people in the North Shore putting up with such schools? Me neither. So, why make poor people suffer –kudos to CPS and Huberman for doing what needs to be done!

  • 3. cpsobsessed  |  March 12, 2010 at 11:53 am

    Thanks guys. Really interesting comments and I agree with both/all of the. Of course it’s not as simple as just putting in new/good teachers. That is the million dollar question that few have cracked yet – how to educate kids of parents who either don’t care/don’t know how/don’t think it’s their job to help?

    I think the nicey-nicey and caring administration is a wonderful thing and sets the ground work for getting families to trust the school, build bridges with parents, get kids to want to hang around the school building etc. The hard part is taking the next step with some “tough love” with these families to crack the academics code.

  • 4. CPS Gawker  |  March 12, 2010 at 1:20 pm

    Has this ever been tried? Would it work? Give every family in low performing schools a mentor. Mentors would be nonpaid volunteers selected by a screening process (eg. your child has graduated and gone on to be successful or is performing at grade level). Would there be enough volunteers? I believe it is possible. There are alot of people, say, retired people, x-teachers, SAHMs who care deeply about our schools. I would do this in a NY minute.

  • 5. Jan  |  March 12, 2010 at 2:16 pm

    You’re probably referencing the Central Falls, Rhode Island high school, that the school board voted to shut down. Not included in many of the recent stories on that situation is that they voted to do that only after they first tried to work with the teaching staff to put through various improvements, and one of them was to increase the school day 25 minutes and have teachers provide tutoring to the students most in need, but the teachers balked at the overall proposal. Only then did the board take the drastic action of firing them all and starting over. And yes, this school needed help; only 7 percent of 11th graders were meeting state standards in math was the worst of the statistics.

    I agree it’s so hard to know the solution for “failing schools” — is it the teachers? class size? the lack of books and resources? low expectations of the families and thus the students? With all these huge educational issues, I personally always seem to come back to the idea that early intervention is so important. By the time kids are in 11th grade, it’s that much harder to overcome obstacles. If all those kids were in well-funded all-day free preschool programs from age 3 onwards, I’ll bet that they would be much better off today, but that is a utopian ideal.

  • 6. Mayfair Dad  |  March 12, 2010 at 4:33 pm

    All CPS neighborhood schools have the exact spend per pupil. All CPS teachers (non-charter) have the exact same union pay scale. Schools with a higher poverty level get more federal funds, while schools in affluent areas are more successful at fundraising. So why do some CPS neighborhood schools succeed at educating children while others fail miserably?

    It is too easy and too convenient to blame the parents for all of society’s ills. When children walk through the doors of a school, they are there to learn. It is the teacher’s job to teach. It is the principal’s job to set the tone as instructional leader and serve as chief administrator of the enterprise.

    I would argue that a high level of parent involvement is necessary to achieve elite status, but should not be required for a school to function properly. Efforts should be made to engage parents in the process, but it is a cop-out to blame the parents for a school’s failure.

    In my opinion, it starts with the principal. Senator Al Franken recently introduced legislation to make more funding available for Principal training/mentoring/development. He makes a very sound argument that the sorry state of affairs in US education is due to a serious lack of talented Principals.

    From what I have seen firsthand at CPS schools, he is absolutely correct.

  • 7. not so hopeful anymore  |  March 12, 2010 at 5:02 pm

    I agree with Jan, that the start of the solution is early education. One program that has experienced phenomenal success is Harlem Children’s Zone. The group takes families, while babies are still in utero, and teaches them how to be parents. From there, they go on to something like an early preschool program. Then preschool (8-10 hours of it). Then a charter school with super long hours and super high expectations. Then high school. And every family is promised their kid will go to college.
    They have had so much success because they start early and essentially, the school becomes like a “second parent” all the while helping parents and families who are struggling deeply.
    This costs a TON of money, though.
    My biggest concern with failing schools being closed is that the great majority of the time, as shown by the data that we now have, is that replacing the staff has been shown to have NO effect on achievement most of the time. There was an article on this a few weeks ago in the Trib. Yet we are basing our national model of school reform on this now. On a model that is proven to NOT work.
    If it worked most of the time, I would be all for it. I don’t understand families that rally behind a poorly performing school. I really don’t understand it when teachers rally behind poorly performing schools.
    I have taught in really poor schools with kids who come into kindergarten and they don’t know their colors, can’t tell the difference between their numbers and their letters…..and it was hugely frustrating to me to see them lose the gains they made in my classroom when they went onto the next grade, because that teacher didn’t do her job. It was frustrating to see 6-7 kids leave every year and then get replaced with kids from even worse schools, so that by the time we got to 4th grade, virtually none of the kids that were with us in Kinder, had stayed.
    I can say that I doubt I will ever return to such a low performing school. I don’t want to lose my job when that school gets shut down because I get lumped in with everyone else. And herein is part of the danger. Good teachers, excellent teachers…..we are going to avoid the schools who need us most because we are not going to take the chance that our school will fire us blindly.
    I had a class with 31 kindergarteners. No aide ever. Next to no materials. 4 special needs students, one who consistently tried to stab me. 22 of them left my classroom reading fluently and none came in with much in the way of literacy skills. But yet, if they closed down my school, I’d have been virtually blacklisted and getting another job would have been even harder than normal. So, when I hear about what happened in Rhode Island and what happens here every year in Chicago, it drives me nuts. Because I know there are some good teachers mixed in with the ones who are not good. I would love to know what the student attendance rate was at that school. I would love to know what the behavior was like. What the poverty level was like. How many assaults against teachers happened in the school. I doubt the nice little story in the paper told the whole story. I also would bet that in ten years, when the newspapers revisit that school, they’ll be reporting that not much has changed. You watch. Marshall High School has been through 3 staff changes and other reconstitutions in the last 20 years. Results? The school is still awful..

  • 8. not so hopeful anymore  |  March 12, 2010 at 5:46 pm

    Mayfair Dad,
    The average child in poverty has about 20% of the vocabulary that a middle class child has starting in kindergarten. That vocabulary comes from parents who talk to them. This can be worked on in schools, but the gap remains huge. There are simply too many children per adult in schools to give them that one on one conversation time. Vocabulary knowledge is a key part of reading comprehension. Low vocabulary=low test scores.
    What do you do when half the class are in gangs? When a good portion miss 40-50 days in a school year? When kids are too hungry to learn? When 60% of the students have only been speaking English for less than a year?
    I really wish you’d go spend a year teaching in Englewood or Pilsen and then I’d like to hear what you think.
    Did you know that most children living in poverty lose approximately a half a years worth of reading gains each summer? While most middle class kids either stay the same or gain? Tell me, are teachers responsible for following kids around all summer? Should we open boarding schools and force them all to do their homework? Maybe we should just adopt every kid with unsupportive families?
    I would argue that very, very few neighborhood schools with high poverty rates succeed. Sure, some have 60% meeting standards instead of 20%…..but neither of those scores constitute success.
    It sounds to me like you are expecting schools to do miracles in communities where every single other portion of the community is dysfunctional. In North Lawndale more than half of the adult males are incarcerated. Crime is more normal than peace. The average income hovers around 10K for a family of 4. Do you really believe schools can function normally in that mess? When during fire drills the kids start running back INTO the schools because, “teacher, they are shooting, they are shooting” and we spend the rest of the day huddled down on the floor hoping bullets don’t go through the windows?
    If you think this isn’t common in Chicago, you haven’t been around much.

  • 9. Anna  |  March 12, 2010 at 9:11 pm

    “Give every family in low performing schools a mentor. Mentors would be nonpaid volunteers selected by a screening process (eg. your child has graduated and gone on to be successful or is performing at grade level). Would there be enough volunteers?”

    So I raise my kids and then I can raise someone else’s? One reason social workers stopped making home visits, back in the 70s, were the complaints from inner-city families about social workers forcing white middle-class values onto minority communities. So I can imagine how warmly a mentor mom would be received.

  • 10. Anne  |  March 12, 2010 at 10:08 pm

    Great blog. I am a teacher at a CPS high school. What goes on inthe system is beyond belief. Chaos reigns in the hallways. Drug deals go on, dice games, are played and the smell of pot is sometimes overwhelming. Our principal sits in her office, never to be seen around the school. I am supposed to teach Algebra to freshmen. In truth, the children I have are barely performing at 6 to 7th grade math readiness. Some can’t add, most can’t multiply and very few bother to do any work. We can’t assign them textbooks because our loss rate is ridiculous. Our curriculum is structured for high school level algebra. We are continuously pounded to make sure we are teaching the curriculum. Forget about readiness or pre-requisite skills: just teach the curriculum. It is a complete nightmare.

    I guess I’m telling my story because I know our department works like crazy to teach these kids while facing every obstacle possible. We come to school, day after day, meet late into the evenings to try to make things better. We aren’t the “older” teachers. We are all young(ish) with graduate degrees and dedication that far surpasses the norms. Firing the teachers isn’t giving things a “fresh start.” It changes the players, not the game. Until administrators get out and walk the halls and see what is going on, until Huberman and Co. realize that the curricula they are mandating is garbage and data whateveryoucallit is not going to solve cultural problems, what goes on in the buildings will remain the same.

  • 11. amy  |  March 12, 2010 at 10:09 pm


    Really interesting article entitled Building a Better Teacher in the NYT recently. Check it out and let me know what you think.

  • 12. 2ndtimearound  |  March 13, 2010 at 12:36 pm

    I agree it is so hard to make change for the better. As a former teacher in a poor, dangerous and under-performing neighborhood I too have seen what does and does not happen in the schools that should, as well as the lack of preparation that some children have. I also agree that cultural background needs to be considered and that the principal and their vision and commitment are equally important. Lastly it is not a quick fix. If students are in third grade and reading at a first grade level, you cannot expect them to jump several grade levels and be at grade level within a year because you change staff, curriculum or make it a turn round school, etc. It takes time for them to eventually catch up if they have good teachers, admins, support, etc, in place. And of course it takes more time if the students we are talking about are older (like the math students mentioned in another above post). Not sure what the solution is, but I think we can do better than we are now. We need the right people in place making decisions who know about education, who look at research about how different children learn and what some of the factors are for them to be successful. We don’t need a CPS created position called the Director of Culture of Calm at a high 2 figure salary to make violence go away at the HS level.

  • 13. chicago parent  |  March 13, 2010 at 6:07 pm

    There are some students who do not care about getting a good education and are disruptive. In my opinion & experience, these are the minority of the students even in the high poverty schools. Expel & suspend students with bad behavior, focus on those who want to achieve — which are the majority of students. Hold teachers accountable for achievement. Improve, even though the starting point may be lower. Charter schools with poor performance close. Public school teachers should be held accountable as well.

  • 14. dave4118  |  March 13, 2010 at 8:12 pm

    I just chatted Thursday with a former CPS h.s. math teacher….she lasted 3 years.She applied to a turnaround school because she said that she thought it ‘had a chance to get it right’. She isn’t bitter, she seemed mystified…at the lack of parental support, at the woeful undereducation of SOME in the central bureacracy(She incredulously described one repeated encounter with someone whom she couldn’t believe had graduated h.s., let alone a college.) She is pursuing a masters in a medically-related field now.

  • 15. cpsobsessed  |  March 14, 2010 at 10:52 am

    I had an interesting conversatio last night about what makes good teachers and how those who are the smartest may not have the best classroom skills and vice versa.
    This past year I watched a documentary about 2 Chicago schools that have made great gains and one principal was a woman who was using “aint'” repeatedly in her conversation and around the kids. Of course I winced. But on the other hand, she really had that intangible skill that is needed in certain schools to rally the teachers, involve the parents, help kids care, etc that seems so hard for others to achieve.

  • 16. CPS Gawker  |  March 16, 2010 at 9:44 am


    What makes you assume the mentors would be white?

  • 17. cpscounselor  |  March 16, 2010 at 10:29 pm

    I agree with Anne. How can people expect a school to be “turned around” by simply changing the staff? The neighborhood problems don’t change. (gangs, drugs, etc.) The parents don’t change. I don’t understand how CPS keeps thinking that turning around schools by replacing the (usually) very dedicated staff and expecting miracles. The students keep experiencing changes, lack of consistent role models, and realize they are at “failing schools.” How can we expect them to succeed? They’re up much more difficult obstacles than most other kids and certainly many more obstacles than all of the students I work with now. Teachers aren’t miracle workers and we cannot expect them to be-especially when there is no family support an we all know how important and essential that is to kids’ success. Kids with no parental support don’t have parents on their back about homework, reading books, studying for tests, or completing projects. A lot of times, their parents don’t even know that they’ve missed 20 days of school that semester. I think this is a huge factor, after working in a 2 schools-1 in low income and 1 in a higher income bracket. The major difference was parent involvement.

    Let’s be honest here. The reason why some schools have really improved test scores is simply because of gentrification. More white, higher income families have moved in and are sending their kids to the neighborhood schools. The neighborhood changes, and so will the test scores. I don’t think there is much more going on at these “amazing” schools whose test scores have gone up so much.

    I don’t know what the answer is, but there are many factors to consider when closing a school, and I really don’t think it’s always the answer to just close a school, hire new people and call it a day. I think it takes a lot more than that.

  • 18. 2ndtimearound  |  March 17, 2010 at 9:37 pm

    I think that some schools really do have a bunch of bad apples on board. As a former south side elementary school teacher, I saw my fair share of security guards throw students up against the wall and berate them in front of their peers. I saw teachers giving up on students based on their past academic history and other teachers having harsher consequences for students they perceived as troublemakers. I also saw new teachers who really tried to make a difference and spent extra time preparing for class or going roller blading with students after school around the (unsafe) neighborhood. And I saw a lot of misappropriation of schools funds.I agree with some of the above posters about how to decide if a school should be closed and/or turned around. I think we need a smaller public school system run by knowledgeable individuals who understand education, the current trends, how different students learn and the role that culture and community play in each school. They need to be able to effectively use that information to partner with the parents and communities to make that school work for the students who attend. And of course, the schools and the district need to be more transparent.

  • 19. somos americanos  |  March 18, 2010 at 1:47 pm

    Research — and I know you love research — shows that schools that underperform do so because of poverty issues and lack of access to quality books. Look up Stephen Krashen et al.

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