The Teachers' Scrounge

News and comments from the world of public education. A middle school math teacher shared what he learned today.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Fifty-Seven Percent Failure Rating

There's a school in Chicago where almost 60% of the 8th-grade class has failed the school year. If you don't believe me, there's a story about it from the area's news station.

Let me get this out of the way: This incident occurred in the Chicago Public School, where the US Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, served most recently as the CEO. That's all I'm gonna say about that.

The Myra Bradwell Academy (this is where a skeptic would insert air-quoties) is a Pre-K through 8 campus (wow!!). The 8th-grade class had 77 students, and 44 of those did not pass, for a 57% failure rate. Most of those students are now enrolled at summer school, and I don't know how Chicago handles retentions... it may be that those kids will all be filed on to the high school anyway. But there were a few things in the article worth discussing:
  • 8th-Grade Graduation: The linked story says, "Tatianna Dennis' son, Tarrell, took his eighth grade photo complete with cap and gown, but the day before his grammar school's graduation, Tarrell learned he would not be marching down the aisle." My last district was ADAMANT that there were no "commencement" nor "graduation" ceremonies until a student had finished high school. In that impoverished area, administrators did not want parents feeling that students were finished with school until the student had a diploma. So we had 8th-grade award ceremonies, but no 8th-grade graduation. Those of you who are parents: how do you feel about this?
  • This is a Pre-K through 8 Campus: Now I would guess there is not much stability on this campus. I wonder how many of the non-passing students had been at this campus for more than 4 years. But if you've got your own program here on campus for Pre-K through 8th grade, who do you have to blame when the kiddos don't pass at the end? Did they go to summer school after 5th grade? 6th Grade? 7th grade? I also wonder how challenging it is for teachers on this campus. There are 3 8th-grade teachers and one teacher who teaches both 7th-and 8th-grade. So, evidently, these middle grade teachers are responsible for multiple subjects. That's a challenge. On my campus, we have a staff of 3 teachers dedicated only to 8th-grade math. We share ideas and the work load to prep for one subject, one grade level. I think that contributes to our success.
  • The role of schools is changing: Schools cannot operate they way they did 20, 10, or even 5 years ago. For example, sure you did homework when you were in school, but at a campus like Bradwell where some kiddos have parents working night jobs, some kiddos have to cook for baby brothers and sisters, and some kiddos don't always have utilities, homework isn't going to be an effective teaching tool. I'm sure this school is facing some tough challenges. No one wants ANY of their students to fail, much less 57% of them!!
  • Some parents were unaware: even though their kiddo had failed English twice before... another parent claims, "she has all the cell phone numbers of her kids' teachers and she calls them all the time, and her kids are doing well in school." Uh... neither of these is a good sign.
  • Extra credit?: "The Board of Education insists the Bradwell school did everything possible to keep the students' grades up, offering extra credit and school on Saturday. And the Board says written notices did go out." I know intellectually that extra credit is not a great idea. I've offered a kiddo extra credit when he or she is a few points away from passing (or from that "85" that mom says they have to have). But if 57% of your campus is relying on extra credit to pass, we are definitely treating a symptom and not the problem.

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