Education reform is for everybody

Education Reform Advocacy Is About Addition Not Subtraction, writes Martín Pérez on Education Post. That is, it takes a coalition.

In his Los Angeles barrio, the neighborhood schools were “dropout factories,” he writes.

My parents were only able to save up enough money to send one of us to a Jesuit high school. They chose me. My brother Ulysses had to stay behind in the public high school. Four years later, when at 18 I became the first in our family to be accepted to college, my brother was entering the Los Angeles County jail. Four years after that, as I walked across the stage as a graduate of University of California, Berkeley, my brother was entering the penitentiary system for the second time.

. . . I decided instead to become the teacher he never had, the one who would understand him, who would take the time to connect with him; the one who he would remember later in life thinking, “If not for this teacher, I would be in jail.”

A Berkeley graduate, Pérez joined Teach for America, became District Teacher of the Year in Phoenix’s Alhambra district and is now an education advocacy fellow at 50CAN. Education reform needs leaders who are “ideologically diverse and racially and socioeconomically diverse,” he concludes.

Isn’t this obvious. Nooooo. Fordham’s Robert Pondiscio kicked off the debate by writing that conservative education reformers feel marginalized by left-wing reformers. “There is an unmistakable and increasingly aggressive orthodoxy in mainstream education reform thought regarding issues of race, class, and gender. And it does not include conservative ideas.”

The reform movement needs both the market and equity perspectives, writes Derrell Bradford, executive director of NYCAN, on The 74.

I’ve been increasingly frustrated to see so many people I like and respect (from Marilyn Rhames to Justin Cohen, Chris Stewart and Jay Greene) take aim at one another.

. . . Does and should the conservative or “Market” perspective — one focused on choice, pluralism and opportunity as the prime drivers — continue to have a place in the education reform movement, effort, confab, or whatever you want to call it? The answer has three letters: yes. Competition and innovation are essential, and may be the best way to level the playing field for kids of color.

“Even as the education reform movement strives to become more ethnically diverse, it could also become less so ideologically,” warns Bradford. “We do not win with a smaller tent against a unified enemy that has created the conditions we battle against.”

Reformers on the “right” and “left” agree about many issues, writes Rick Hess. However, the “social justice warriors” are using “white privilege” to shut down dialogue.

Those on the left have all too often taken any disagreement on these issues as evidence that those of us who disagree with them are blinded by “white privilege.” If we weren’t blinded, we’d agree with them. If we don’t agree, it’s evidence that we’re blinded. This infuriating little catch-22 can leave even conciliation-minded conservatives thinking, “The hell with it.”

Progressives should care about what conservatives think — and not simply “out of tactical self-interest,” Hess concludes. “It’s because exploring these substantive differences is good, healthy, and important, and makes for smarter decisions about policy and practice.”

Graduation rates may be rising

Graduation rates are inching up and fewer high schools are “dropout factories,” concludes Building A Grad Nation, a report by the America’s Promise Alliance, Civic Enterprise and the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins. From 2002-08, graduation rates rose form 72 percent to 75 percent, researchers found. The number of dropout factories — high schools with graduation rates under 60 percent — fell by 13 percent.

Tennessee raised its graduation rate by 15 percent; New York went up by 10 percent.

New York City closed low-performing schools, writes Sarah Garland on HechingerEd.

Besides causing an outcry among parents and teachers, this approach hasn’t always yielded all positive benefits, as we’ve written about previously. (For an in-depth look at the arduous process of closing a school, I recommend the GothamSchools series that has followed the effort to shut down Columbus High School in the Bronx along with two others.)

The city also created “alternate pathways for at-risk students so they could catch up on missed credits or return to school after dropping out.”

While black, Hispanic and Native American students made the greatest gains, only 40 percent graduated on time in 2008, notes Education Week.

The report recommended a number of strategies:

These include targeting schools with high dropout rates and the lower grades that feed into them; providing more-rigorous course requirements along with more flexible class schedules for students; and developing early-warning systems to identify students in earlier grades at risk of dropping out, among other strategies.

To qualify for federal education grants, states and districts must track students from eighth grade through graduation, starting in 2010-11, and start showing improvement in 2011-12. Requiring a consistent reporting method will stop districts from inflating graduation rates, says Joanna Fox of Johns Hopkins.