In The Difference School Can Make in the Wall Street Journal, Miriam Jordan tells the story of two Oklahoma City teens who cut class together in middle school but went to different high schools. Ivan Cantera enrolled at a charter high school called Santa Fe South. Laura Corro went to a traditional high school, Capitol Hill.
At Santa Fe South, the school day is 45 minutes longer; graduation requirements are more rigorous (four years of math, science and social studies compared with three at public schools); and there is a tough attendance policy.
. . . Santa Fe South, whose teachers are on a one-year renewable contract, can remove incompetent instructors more easily than Capitol Hill, where teachers are unionized.
Santa Fe South was much stricter. Ivan’s advisory teacher, Kim Pankhurst, called home every time he missed school.
If he was disruptive in class, she ordered him to do pushups. His parents didn’t show up for parent-teacher meetings. His report card was fair — As, Bs and Cs. “I could tell he was smart,” says Ms. Pankhurst. But “he was just a brat. He didn’t have a goal.”
Both teens went to Mexico for a family funeral. When Ivan returned after a week, Ms. Pankhurst gave him all his missed assignments so he could keep up his grades. “I could tell she really cared,” Ivan says. He cut his gang ties, stopped drinking and using drugs and became an A student.
When Laura returned from Mexico after a month, one teacher mocked her excuse, not realizing that both grandparents and an uncle had died in a car crash. Laura didn’t make up the missed work, flunked some classes and barely scraped up enough credits for a diploma.
This year, 62 of 71 Santa Fe South’s graduating seniors will attend a four-year university, two-year college or vocational school in the fall. Ivan will go to University of Oklahoma on a full scholarship.
Only a third of Capitol Hill graduates go on to college or vocational school. Laura, now working full-time at a pizza place, hopes to apply to art school.