Two friends, two schools, two futures

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.

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Comments

  1. Yes, Ivan’s teacher took extra time to work with him, but, after all, he only missed a week of school. Laura missed a month, for the same funeral. Might that be a major factor in the different outcomes?
    Ivan also took the active steps needed: quitting the gang, avoiding drugs/alcohol, and doing the work. What did Laura do?

  2. Richard Nieporent says:

    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.

    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.

    I would add two funerals to your headline. That would explain the difference between these students more than the schools they attended. It does not take a month to have a funeral. You really can’t make up a month’s worth of work whether or not the child’s excuse was “mocked” by the teacher.

  3. Nice catch, Richard

  4. In addition to Richard’s catch, which I also noted, doesn’t anyone ever pay attention to the fact that these stories only mention grades, not test scores?

    If Ivan had high SAT scores–or even average ones–it would have made the story. So sure, he finished school and went to college, but he’s almost certainly taking remedial courses.

  5. SuperSub says:

    Ok… so the sotry attempts to portray this as something akin to a controlled study, where all factors are controlled for except the one they want to study – school choice.
    Unfortunately, this is not the case. As has already been noted, the two students could have differed in intelligence and did differ in personal choices and time absent.
    Lets look at one more factor, for which everything mentioned above can be a proxy – parental involvement. Chances are that Ivan had some sort of strong role model (either parental or semi-parental) that caused him to be enrolled in a charter school and guided him in his choices to stay away from gangs and drugs and instead focus on school.