Restructuring of failing schools has failed again and again, writes Robert Manwaring in an Education Sector report. He looks at LA’s Markham Middle School, labeled low-performing in 1997 when the average student scored at the 16th percentile in math and 12th percentile in reading. The state enacted a series of interventions to turn around the school, which enrolls Mexican-American and black students in a gang neighborhood in Watts. Then the feds intervened under No Child Left Behind.
. . . They drew up plans, disbursed funds, and hired specialists. Principals and teachers came and went, while politicians of all stripes vowed to get tough and do what it takes to reform these schools or close them down. Yet, at the end of all that, Markham Middle School was still open for business, still serving low-income and minority students, and still low-performing. In 2009 only 3 percent of the students were proficient in math and 11 percent in English.
The challenge in public education isn’t deciding which schools need help, Manwaring writes. “It’s determining how to help them, and when to decide that no amount of help will do.”
Unfortunately, many states “avoid tough choices,” instead lowering achievement standards to make bad schools look better, he writes.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is targeting turnaround efforts at the lowest 5 percent of schools. We’re not going to “tinker” any more, he says. But what does that mean for a school like Markham?
Markham is one of the LA schools that laid off half its young teachers because of seniority rules, then found veteran teachers refused to take jobs there. So the school, now run by the mayor’s office, is relying on substitutes, who aren’t allowed to teach there long enough to qualify for higher pay.