6.26.2010

Green Dot saves the Planet

Sam Dillon writes in the New York Times about Locke High School's turn-around in Los Angeles.
As recently as 2008, Locke High School here was one of the nation’s worst failing schools, and drew national attention... Now, two years after a charter school group took over, gang violence is sharply down, fewer students are dropping out, and test scores have inched upward... But progress is coming at considerable cost: an estimated $15 million over the planned four-year turnaround, largely financed by private foundations. That is more than twice the $6 million in federal turnaround money that the Department of Education has set as a cap for any single school... Locke High, with 3,200 students, sprawls across six city blocks in south-central Los Angeles. The school’s principal in 2007 complained publicly that the Los Angeles Unified School District had made it a dumping ground for problem teachers... In spring 2008, only 15 percent of students passed state math tests.
The school's normal budget is 30 million.
The school is twice the size of a normal high school.
The budget is 9,375 per student - I'm assuming that's normal for Los Angeles schools.
The "massive" investment represents a one-eighth increase in the annual budget.
The principal has to accept employees foisted off as less competent by the district manager. Who knows why? Most principals don't have to hire people unless they like them.

What was the problem the charter take-over cured? That's what you have to ask yourself, because the "charters save the planet" story is who, not HOW.

After eliminating upper management (the mayor) and making the facility function properly (clean, neat, adequate space) and tailoring the faculty to the needs of the students (not mentioned directly) the school is able to function normally. Increased investment necessary was one twelve and a half percent of the normal budget.

How realistic is that? First take a look at the quote about only fifteen percent of students passing math tests. Doesn't that mean that nearly three-quarters of the population needs remediation? Probably not. Let's say half. That leaves us with the population of a normal high school performing at the level of the lowest quartile of a normal high school. That means the school-within-a-school has specialized staffing needs. If those needs are met, then the institution should be capable of functioning. I have a friend who is an adolescent psychiatrist in Boston. When I told her that our code for "lowest quartile" means reading at a 4th grade level, she retorted sharply that those kids had developmental disabilities. Do you still think the school doesn't need a specialized staff? The fact is that when a school does get the staff, the specially trained staff is barely capable of making headway.

If those needs are ignored and the school becomes a dumping ground for people that are ejected from other sites, the institution should fall on its face - which is what apparently happened prior to Green Dot's management.

Does this say that changing management in a similar way will be effective at other schools? Maybe, if the school has exactly the same situation.

What situation is that? Management that closes its eyes and desperately wishes for problems to disappear and management that will hand-wave (consultants and committees) when confronted by reality. Management that wants to placate wealthy populations by allocating resources in their favor and shifting funds in their general direction. Management that sweeps up children and drops them into a limbo it created for them.

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