Articles in the Dropout Prevention category

Dichotomy’s present, prolific in story of public education

otb-camdenCamden, N.J., is no longer the most violent city in America. That distinction now belongs to St. Louis, Mo., my hometown.

At least, that’s the assessment by CQ Press, which each year examines the rate of violent crime in America’s cities and metropolitan areas. For the record, according to 2009 statistics, St. Louis had 2,070 violent crimes per 100,000 residents, with Camden, last year’s “winner,” not far behind.

CQ’s whole enterprise is misleading, however. In Camden, as in St. Louis, how violent it is depends on where exactly in the city you are. Visit Camden’s gleaming, touristy waterfront, its lovely aquarium and fine hotels, and you might not know what problems lurk in its neighborhoods. Spend a weekend in downtown St. Louis – going to the zoo, the symphony, or a Cardinals game – and you’d probably have no idea you’re in the “most violent” city in America.

I mention Camden’s crime rate, because Senior Editor Del Stover and I wrote about two schools in some of the poorer parts of that city for this month’s ASBJ. Del went to LEAP University Charter School.  I visited the more “traditional” Woodrow Wilson High School.

Naomi Dillon|November 24th, 2010|Categories: Governance, Urban Schools, School Reform, Student Achievement, Dropout Prevention, Policy Formation, American School Board Journal|Tags: , |

The week in blogs

Library of Congres photo

Library of Congress photo

When I was growing up in the Midwest, our church had a wonderful pastor who was perfect in every way except … Well, let me explain: He wasn’t exactly a bad preacher; no, not at all. He could actually turn a pretty good phrase. It’s just that —  he went on, and on, and on.

And on.

During prayers, I can still see my mother in the pew beside me, seemingly mouthing words of hope that the litany of blessings would somehow come to an end. (“No, not the farmers in the field. Please, not the farmers in the field.”)

“And bless,” our pastor boomed (really, he was just getting started), “the farmers in the field!”

What did I do during these times, and the equaling interminable sermons? What else? I daydreamed. And one of my favorite daydreams — at least, if we were sitting in the balcony — was figuring out how, if I got a really good jump, I could leap to the first brass chandelier and ride it, Curious-George-style, to the next and the next and the next, over the awestruck congregation.

Why am I telling you this? Well, it turns out I’m in pretty good company as far as daydreaming is concerned. According to cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham (a guest blogger on Valerie Strauss’ “Answer Sheet”) we all daydream at least 30 percent of the time, whether we’re shopping, reading, watching children, or doing practically anything else.

Lawrence Hardy|November 19th, 2010|Categories: Governance, Teachers, Educational Research, Student Achievement, Dropout Prevention, Policy Formation, Assessment, American School Board Journal|

The week in blogs

What? You’re tired of the election already? So how about that economy!

Sorry, bad joke. But I just had to point out a great blog — “Off the Charts,” from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities — that I stumbled on last night while writing a story on (what else?) the election. Read the post by Senior Fellow Michael Mazerov on why cutting or eliminating state corporate taxes is a bad idea. Then see State Fiscal Project Director Nicholas Johnson on why this will be the states’ worst budget year ever.

I said it was a “great” blog; I didn’t say it was happy. Because, as Johnson explains, next year could be even more dismal for states – and for the school districts that depend on them for much of their funding.  Earlier posts offer helpful comparisons of states and their projected shortfalls.

Elsewhere, Diane Ravitch wrote a devastating review of the movie Waiting for Superman in the New York Review of Books called “The Myth of Charter Schools.” For those public school advocates who thought the film was a trifle, well, biased toward charters – no high- or even decent-performing regular public schools were featured – you might take heart from the Washington Post‘s Valerie Strauss, who said in her blog that the critique from the influential Ravitch might even prevent the film from winning an Oscar.

Finally, read Maureen Downey, of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution‘s “Get Schooled” blog, about how a determined principal turned around a low-performing Alabama elementary school and made it one of the highest performing in the state. She did it with hard work, perseverance, and an unwavering belief that disadvantaged students can excel.

My favorite part is when the principal tells her staff: “Whatever your expectations are for these kids, triple them today. They’re not high enough.”

Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor

Lawrence Hardy|November 5th, 2010|Categories: Governance, Curriculum, Teachers, Diversity, School Reform, Student Achievement, Dropout Prevention, Policy Formation, Homeless People, Budgeting, American School Board Journal|

Putting school reform in context

1377-1245004138PKaRThe opinion piece in Sunday’s Washington Post by Joel Klein, Michelle Rhee and 13 other school leaders was titled “manifesto,” a word I find a little unnerving.  It suggests certain arrogance, a we-know-what-you-need-even-if-you-don’t kind of attitude. Plus, it’s inevitably colored by the work of two 19th century German theorists, who got some things right about capitalism but a lot more wrong.

So it didn’t’ strike me as a particularly stellar PR move. However, it turns out the name “manifesto,” might have been attached by some Post editors because other papers that picked up the piece called it something different. Still, judging by it’s tone, you couldn’t quite title it “All Together Now: Let’s Improve our Schools.”

No, the piece is an argument against the status quo and the power of teacher unions. And I must say I agree with much of it; personally, I believe principals should be able to hire – and fire – pretty much whomever they please, without having their hands tied with cumbersome seniority rules. What if a principal has a bias against a certain teacher and treats him unfairly? you ask. My answer: The same thing that happens in the private sector: if he’s good, he’ll go somewhere else, with a better boss.

The problem with the “manifesto” is it suggests that personnel rules are the only problem, that little else is holding students back in poor urban schools, and this is simply not the case.

Naomi Dillon|October 19th, 2010|Categories: Governance, Teachers, Student Achievement, Dropout Prevention, Policy Formation, American School Board Journal|Tags: , , , , , |

The week in blogs

Photo by Jim Lillicotch courtesy of

Photo by Jim Lillicotch courtesy of

Greetings, blog readers. And welcome to The Week in Blogs’ First Occasional Pop Quiz About Important Education News You Should Know About. (We’re still working on the title.)

Today’s question: What big-city school leader announced plans this week to step down after a whirlwind tenure that included closing 22 schools, instituting a new evaluation system for teachers, and introducing performance pay?

Michelle who?

No, we’re talking about Mark Roosevelt, the innovative superintendent of the Pittsburgh Public Schools, who is stepping down Dec. 31 to seek the job of president of Antioch College, which had closed because of financial difficulties but is planning to reopen next fall.

An excellent analysis of Roosevelt’s tenure in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette also describes the superintendent’s bold “leap of faith” in establishing the Pittsburgh Promise college scholarship program for city schools graduates who meet certain requirements. With the help of a major grant from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, as well as its own fundraising, the program has provided more than 2,400 scholarships.

For a change of pace (or perhaps comic relief) read Slate’s story, entitled “Tea Party Candidate Wants to Eliminate Public Schools.” It’s about David Harmer, the GOP candidate for California’s 11th Congressional District, who 10 years ago said public schools are “socialism in education” and proposed going back to “the way things worked through the first century of American nationhood.”  Did we say this was funny? Slate cites one election analyst who gives Harmer a 54.7 percent chance of beating Democratic incumbent Jerry McNerney. (Thanks to Alexander Russo’s This Week in Education for alerting us to the stories about the Pittsburgh schools and Harmer’s candidacy.)

Lastly, read the Alliance for Excellent Education’s blog about the high cost to the nation (and to taxpayers) of students dropping out of college. The American Institutes for Research study says that states appropriated almost $6.2 billion between 2003 and 2008 to help pay for the education of students who did not return for a second year. The study underscores the important work school districts must do to ensure that all college-bound students are prepared for the academic challenges ahead.

Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor

Lawrence Hardy|October 16th, 2010|Categories: Governance, Curriculum, Teachers, Diversity, Urban Schools, Student Achievement, Dropout Prevention, Policy Formation, Budgeting, American School Board Journal|

Fragile familes, fragile lives

Library of Congress photo

Library of Congress photo

Maybe you’ve never heard the term “fragile families” — I hadn’t — but you no doubt have many children from these families in your schools. If your district is relatively affluent, you probably have less of them; but if your district is poor, these children could easily represent 70 percent or more of your students.

Fragile Families are defined as couples that are unmarried when their children are born, according to a new report from The Future of Children, a collaboration between Princeton University and the Brookings Institution. According to the report, children from these families are more likely to live in poverty, have serious behavioral issues, and (it will probably come as no surprise) do poorly in school.

Lawrence Hardy|October 12th, 2010|Categories: Governance, Diversity, Wellness, Educational Research, Student Achievement, Dropout Prevention, Policy Formation, Homeless People, American School Board Journal|

The quiet crisis in adolescent literacy

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

When did you learn to read?  Kindergarten? First grade? Second grade?

Those are all good answers, but they tell only half the story. Because, if you eventually developed advanced literacy skills, you never really stopped learning to read as you moved through elementary and middle school and into high school. Gradually, as your skills improved, your focus shifted from “learning to read” to “reading to learn,” as reading experts say. It’s a process that should occur by at least fourth grade, according to a new policy brief by the Alliance for Excellent Education.

Unfortunately, many children never get to the “reading to learn” phase. While they may be able to repeat the words in a text, they lack the literacy skills to truly understand their meaning. These children, many of them poor and minorities, enter middle and high school reading at 4th grade reading levels or worse. And — not surprisingly — a large number of them fail.

A big problem is that many school districts aren’t designed to offer the kind of sophisticated reading instruction that young adolescents need, the Alliance brief says. Not enough high school teachers are trained in literacy instruction, and many high schools “silo” their subjects in ways that allow reading remediation to fall through the cracks.

The Alliance Brief is called The Federal Role in Confronting the Crisis in Adolescent Literacy, but it has much to say about the responsibility of states and school districts as well. And it links to several other studies that offer districts all kinds of ideas for addressing a crisis that too often goes unnoticed and unaddressed.

Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor

Lawrence Hardy|October 5th, 2010|Categories: Curriculum, Teachers, Diversity, Student Achievement, Dropout Prevention, Policy Formation, Assessment, American School Board Journal|

The week in blogs

Library of Congress illustration

Library of Congress illustration

No need to tell you – you’ve no doubt heard. A new education documentary came out today in selected cities, and it’s soon to be released nationwide. It’s called Superboard, and it tells the story of seven hard-working school board members who toil countless hours for the good of their communities. Stellar public servants all, these Mighty Seven are dedicated to student achievement, live lives of continuous improvement, and exude the kind of high-level boardsmanship that would make even W. Edwards Deming proud. Heck, just reading one of their agendas could bring you to tears.

Well, at least the tears part is true. Because there were lots of tears on Oprah on Monday as the mega talk show host introduced David Guggenheim, the director of the new documentary Waiting for Superman. (Along with Bill Gates and Washington D.C., schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee – whom Oprah dubbed a “warrior woman.”) And, sorry, it’s not about the wonders of school boards. 

I haven’t seen the film, but from what I’ve heard, Superman is a pretty damning portrait of the education “establishment”  — and a love letter to charter schools. (Although, to her credit, Oprah did mention that there are some very bad charter schools, along with the good ones. Maybe you know of some.).

Lawrence Hardy|September 24th, 2010|Categories: Governance, Teachers, Diversity, Educational Research, School Reform, Student Achievement, Dropout Prevention, Policy Formation, American School Board Journal|

High School Harassment, real and imagined

0909vailgraphicWe’re a bit late jumping on the bandwagon, but my wife and I recently watched the first season of Glee – Fox TV’s comedic take on a high school glee club — and are now, according to the lingo, certified “Gleeks.”

Why are we so smitten? Well, for one, the characters are expertly cast, and the singing, dancing and, especially, acting, are remarkable. The young stars have really gotten into the heads of adolescents and given us a true portrait of what high school is like.

Sort of. Because, in truth, much of the appeal of Glee is pure escapism. McKinley High is a mythical kind of school, a place where even the bad guys (and girls) are endearing and the worst thing that can befall you is being doused with a Slurpie in the hall or — if you’re Kurt, the one gay glee club member – ritually tossed into the trash bin by the football players at the start of school. (Mr. Schuester, the Spanish teacher and glee club director, drives by the trash bin a few times, and barely notices. So no harm done.) 

The real world is not so benign. A report released yesterday by the national gay rights group Campus Pride found that nearly one quarter (23 percent) of gay and bisexual students face harassment on college campuses, and more than a third (33 percent) “have seriously considered leaving their institution due to the challenging climate,” according to a news release accompanying the report.

Lawrence Hardy|September 21st, 2010|Categories: Governance, Curriculum, Diversity, Wellness, Educational Research, School Security, School Climate, Dropout Prevention, Policy Formation, Discipline, American School Board Journal|

For some kids, first day back is not filled with new hope and promise

stockvault_7682_20070524Coincidence or not, I have many friends and loved ones who happen to be teachers, including my fiancee whose first day of classes began this week.

He works in a challenging high school in a rough neighborhood of Washington D.C. But even I was surprised to hear about one particular episode during his class.

While he roamed the room, lecturing and introducing them to the principles and expectations of the course, a handful of students kept up a steady stream of stage-whispered expletives— the kind that would make your mother blush.

As shocked as I was to hear the retelling of this tale, my fiancee was, no doubt, even more set aback.

Rather than ignore these disruptive mutterings or respond with an outburst of his own, he noted the disturbance, deduced the offenders, and continued on with his instruction.


Naomi Dillon|August 25th, 2010|Categories: Teachers, School Climate, Dropout Prevention, Leadership, American School Board Journal|Tags: |
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