Ravitch: Don’t believe in miracles

Waiting for a school miracle? Don’t hold your breath, advises education historian Diane Ravitch in a New York Times op-ed. Most turnaround success stories are public relations triumphs, she writes.

In his State of the Union address, President Obama hailed the Bruce Randolph School in Denver, which he said went from “one of the worst schools in Colorado” to a school that graduates 97 percent of seniors.

Randolph, a middle school that’s added a high school, does have a high graduation rate, she concedes, but students’ ACT scores are far below the state average, showing students are not well prepared for college. Middle schoolers rank in the fifth percentile statewide in math and the 1st percentile in science.

After Miami Central was “reconstituted” — the principal and half the staff members were fired — President Obama said “performance has skyrocketed by more than 60 percent in math” and that graduation rates rose to 63 percent from 36 percent.

But Miami Central is one of the lowest-ranking high schools in Florida, Ravitch writes. Only 56 percent of its students meet state math standards, and only 16 percent met state reading standards. The graduation rate is well below the state median of 87 percent.

Her point?

Families are children’s most important educators. Our society must invest in parental education, prenatal care and preschool. Of course, schools must improve; every one should have a stable, experienced staff, adequate resources and a balanced curriculum including the arts, foreign languages, history and science.

If every child arrived in school well-nourished, healthy and ready to learn, from a family with a stable home and a steady income, many of our educational problems would be solved. And that would be a miracle.

The kids could fly to school on winged pigs.

So-called 90/90/90 schools — with 90 percent low-income students, 90 percent minority students and 90 percent achieving high academic standards — are a myth, writes Justin Baeder in On Performance. That’s unless you think getting 90 percent of students to “basic” skills, not proficiency, constitutes high academic standards.

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