Fixing “America’s worst schools” is no picnic, even with federal grants, reports the Christian Science Monitor. Most of the story deals with Wendell Phillips Academy on Chicago’s South Side, where 27 percent of ninth graders read at the third grade level or below.
With a U.S. history class of only 10 juniors and seniors, Joyce Randolph has spent weeks discussing: Just how revolutionary was the American Revolution? She asks students to rephrase the question.
Finally she gets a response from one young man: “Did the Revolution bring about significant change?”
“Awesome!” says Ms. Randolph, as she points to another student. “Curtis, what does ‘significant’ mean?”
She’s met with a blank stare. Silence.
Last year, less than 5 percent of Phillips students met state academic standards. Fights were frequent.
Chicago Public Schools gave control of the school — and $5 million in federal turnaround grants over the next five years — to the Academy of Urban School Leadership (AUSL). The principal and all the teachers were fired. The new principal, Terrance Little, rehired only the two ROTC teachers. He instituted uniforms and a dress code, and a zero-tolerance policy for fighting. When he visited Phillips last year, it was a “zoo,” Little says.
“There was food fighting in the cafeterias, and kids were always fighting in the hallways,” recalls Eric Darko, a soft-spoken senior from Ghana, as he builds a complex tower after school for a Science Olympiad. “It was horrible bad. We didn’t learn anything.” This year, he says, things are better. “The teachers are always on time and on track.”
Freshmen now stay at school an extra hour each day. Little also made the grading scale tougher after seeing A students with abysmal ACT scores.
I used to be an AP student on the honor roll, and now I’ve got an F,” says Tyrice McClaren, who is eating an unappetizing looking chicken sandwich from the cafeteria.
The new teachers have agreed to common teaching practices, such as starting each class with a “Do now” assignment and ending with an “exit slip” on which students are asked how well they understood the material. They try to keep their expectations high.
In her class, Randolph uses a “document-based questions” curriculum, which asks students to examine historical papers for evidence. Originally designed for Advanced Placement students, it is a rigorous program that she believes pushes them to think critically. On the other hand, she notes, her class is still on the American Revolution in February . . .
It seems hopeless. Twenty-seven percent of the ninth graders read at the third grade level or below.
Update: Student misbehavior pushes teachers out of the profession,writes Will Fitzhugh. Students who want to learn are cheated, because their teachers have to spend so much time trying to control disruptive students. He wants to push out disruptive students.
It should be easy to send disruptive students home with access to online classes. They’re not likely to learn much, but their former teachers and classmates would benefit.
Phillips Academy’s new principal abolished in-school suspension and boosted the expulsion rate to control fighting and other zoo-like behavior.