Yakima Dispatch

Karin Chenoweth takes a look at a high school in Washington’s Yakima Valley. Let the debunking begin!

10 Replies to “Yakima Dispatch”

  1. And you already know what the “debunking” will be.

    Originally the Ed Trust had 1300+ schools that were “high poverty high performing.” That total was reduced to 26, and Chenowith started writing about “beating the odds.” Granger is always at the top of the list of schools that “beat the odds,” and then comes Elmont,NY, even though it is not a high poverty high school, and then comes a school adopted by an Ivy League quality university.

    The title Its Being Done, implies that we know how to turnaround large numbers of schools – even secondary schools – with the resources that are really available. That PR slogan has been thoroughly debunked. You participated in studies that debunked them.

    I checked the Granger web site, and unlike others cited by Chenowith, the Ed Trust, the Heritage Foundation, and other true believers, I think they are a real HPHP. And by the way, Granger stressed discipline, and issue that tends to be ignored by liberal ideologues.

    But here’s why they can succeed while others fail. Look at the map. The reason why inner city problems are so insurmountable is that the most motivated students and families are creamed off to the suburbs, private schools, and a panoply of magnets. The same applies to the top teachers and admistrators. When educators get so exhausted that they flee to lower poverty or magnet schools, a major reason is the chronic disorder.

  2. I sent this to eduwonk Andy in an e-mail and he suggested I tuck it in here. Warning to comment readers: this is a little long.
    Chenowith’s P-I column was a trip back to familiar ground for me as I covered schools in Washington state as the state was grappling with its own ed reform efforts, then scrambling to make things match up with NCLB. Granger is a small district, about 1,500 students, and has three schools and an alternative high school program. It definitely counts as a high-poverty area grappling with deep-running cultural and economic issues.
    The advisory program described in the column sounds like a version of the Navigator 101 program originally developed in the Franklin Pierce School District south of Seattle (but in that sprawling metro area). It’s a scripted advisory curriculum for grades 6-12, though not all middle schools use it. I wrote about it years ago when a district I covered in Southeastern Washington was considering reinventing its high schools and using some form of advisory program to connect every student to at least one adult in the school. I was intrigued to hear the advisory curriculum program arose from one Barrett originally used with special education students.
    I spent a day at Franklin Pierce HS with Dan Barrett, who co-developed the original program. The school was holding parent-teacher conferences that day, and had a 98 percent participation rate (parents showing up). With this curriculum, parents/guardians and their student meet with the advisory period teacher (I think twice a year) and the student leads the conference, reviewing a portfolio that contains all progress to that point (including grades and attendance). The program has spread to other Washington schools and I believe there is now state funding support available. The program has a Web page on the OSPI Web site, http://www.k12.wa.us/navigation101/default.aspx.
    When I covered this, back in 2002 or 2003, the most remarkable thing about the program (then still early days) was that the district’s high schools had reduced their freshman failure rate and increased the number of students taking gateway courses in math and science. They also improved parent involvement in the students’ education.
    Reading the article, I found myself wondering why the same approach has not filtered down to the high school’s feeder school (the district’s 5-8 middle school). What is stopping the effort to boost achievement at the lower grades. A look at the district report card shows the high school students’ reading pass rates are much higher than the elementary pass rates. I also noted that the district has a way to go to meet the state’s math standards for high school students (Washington high-schoolers take the Washington Assessment of Student Learning in 10th-grade and have the opportunity for retakes through their senior year.) But kudos to the administration, teachers and students for the high graduation rate, the reading success and the push to continue education beyond high school.
    -Cathy Grimes
    Education team leader
    The Daily Press

  3. Dedicated staff who set high standards for their students: Plus

    Local and Regional Control (i.e no D.C. based policy wonks hyphothesizing cure alls for inner city Baltimore and trying to pass them onto the rest of us): Plus

    Focus on attitude as opposed to unflinching faith in data driven decision making: Plus

    Great High School Principal who views his worth in the same way one might view ascending the corporate ladder in the private sector (i.e. Rhee Syndrome): Minus

    Author who believes that success can be replicated using a one size fits all approach: Minus

    My Two Cent High School Cure All: Make your high school principals the second highest paid employees in your district right behind the superintendent and approach each high school as an organic independent community. It might work as often as you can find great high school principals– which is hardly ever, but it’s worth a shot.

  4. Sounds like Granger is on the right track. As a bilingual teacher here in Washington it is refreshing to read success stories. Of course it is very hard work to close the achievement gap, but with dedication and the right teaching tools we can do it.
    Here are some light-hearted tips for fellow language teachers:

    When I checked out the entire article I was a little disturbed by the number of comments discounting the hard work and achievements and turning it instead into a debate on whether or not students deserve an education. Would we want to be surrounded by uneducated peopl?

  5. To Cathy Grimes–you are exactly right about Navigator. I haven’t yet studied the state curriculum, but Richard Esparza said that it is what Granger used and he thought it very helpful. To me this kind of advisory system, with a well-developed program and conferences led by students is a very commonsensical way to ensure that kids are connected with at least one grownup in a school, and I too am puzzled why it hasn’t caught on. But, of course, like anything else, it has to be done well in order to be effective.

    To John Thompson–I actually don’t consider Granger a high-achieving school. It is a rapidly improving, high-poverty school that has come a long way. But, as Cathy Grimes noted, it still has a long way to go in math and its science scores are dismal. One of the interesting things about its improvement is that it is really focused in reading and writing. We know that it is very difficult to raise reading levels at the secondary level, and it is one of the reasons I think the school is worth careful study.

    I must say I am not sure why you consider it somehow illegitimate to find examples of improvement and high achievement and then ask the people responsible what it is they did. That is what I did in It’s Being Done and I find it odd that an educator would so completely dismiss the insights of successful fellow educators.

    To Sara–you are exactly right. It takes a lot of hard work. But when work pays off with success, teachers and principals seem to be invigorated rather than exhausted–at least, that’s what I’ve observed.

  6. Another Washington State person here. I think it’s great that Ed Trust brings attention to schools that are beating the odds – my center did few studies of Washington’s fast-improving schools a number of years ago. But a column like this isn’t helpful when it stops with vague lines about believing in schools and holding them to high standards (sorry Karin).

    As is true in many states, Washington residents like to fool ourselves into believing that all our schools can be like the Granger school without doing icky things like authorizing charter schools, creating real accountability for the adults in our schools, making serious investments in leadership training and other support infrastructures. But without real systemwide changes in incentives, flexibilities, and capacities, schools like this will always be anomalies. I think it’s a disservice to imply otherwise.

  7. Ouch, that hurts. In my defense, this is an op-ed–maybe 900 words. All I could do was to give a quick picture of the school and try to convey the thoughts of the people on the ground. What they talk about is the belief system that exists now and that existed in the past, where just about everyone assumed that the kids were incapable of academic achievement.

    I admit the folks at Granger also talk a lot about accountability–the principal and the math department chair were deeply disappointed by the state’s backing off of requiring the math standard for graduation. They felt that the rug had been pulled out from under them undermined their efforts to improve math performance. They are also strong supporters of federal accountability. I suppose I could have mentioned that.

    The overall point is that if we were to study what successful schools do and think deeply about what would help create more such successful schools, we would be a lot further along in providing quality education for all kids. But first we have to convince people that there are in fact successful schools worthy of study. Far too many dismiss them as–what did you call them?–anomalies.

  8. Karin,

    I hate to say it, because in most areas we would be on the same side, but I have an easier time dealing with the arguments of Robin who wrote that we,

    “like to fool ourselves into believing that all our schools can be like the Granger school without doing icky things like authorizing charter schools, creating real accountability for the adults in our schools, making serious investments in leadership training and other support infrastructures. But without real systemwide changes in incentives, flexibilities, and capacities, schools like this will always be anomalies.”

    I think she’s heading in the wrong direction but at least we can debate the issue. I think I can make the better argument that accountability is just one factor, that charters may work better when they “cream” of the most motivated, and that successes often have an additional factor, they get to dump their most challenging students and weakest educators on neighborhood schools. I don’t begrudge them their freedom from policies that are virtually suicidal, but they should realize that their freedom isn’t completely free – our problems get worse.

    We’ve had some exchanges, and what I find odd is your refusal to address my arguments. This isn’t a 900 word Op Ed, and if you show a little candor when debating a teacher, it won’t spell the end of the politics of education reform. You keep playing fast and loose with the meaning of “Its.” If you mean that large numbers of hardcore schools like mine could beat the odds given the resources and policies that are available, then I think you are just playing politics. And you are doing so in a way that damages my kids. You are just reinforcing the civil rights movement on the cheap approach, and reinforcing the cycle that drives teaching talent out of high poverty schools. We don’t begrudge the success of others, but we are infuriated by the slander that we could get it done just like those few anomalies if we just raised expectations.

    If, however, you had just reported on successes that did not require the narrowing of the curriculum, excessive test prep, and assaults on the dignity of poor students and their teachers, then you would be a valuable ally.

    Here’s my problem. We (and I believe that most inner city teachers are a part of that “we.”)argue that curriculum-driven reforms, accountability, and high standards are necessary but not sufficent. We argue that expensive investments are required to create a learning culture, create safe and orderly schools, and build relationships. Then the consultants and theorists, citing your work and the work of the Ed Trust, produce Power Point Presentations that imply the job is much cheaper and relatively easy. I think we win the intellectual, research-driven battle, but we are at a huge disadvantage in the political war.

  9. I have never said that the job of educating poor children to high standards is easy. I have said it is possible. The schools I profile in my book, It’s Being Done, demonstrate that it is possible–and without narrowing the curriculum, doing endless test prep, or working teachers to death. Teachers in these schools work hard, but they work hard together, which means that they are not working at cross-purposes (as they do in many dysfunctional schools) and they are working with the full and complete support of their principals (also unlike dysfunctional schools). In the schools I profile, every adult acts as if his or her role is important–because it is. I think we have to get away from the idea that individual teachers, teaching on their own, can save public education. They can’t. It is impossible for any individual teacher to know everything about teaching every topic to every child. It is only with the collective effort of entire schools and even districts and states that we are going to get the job of educating every child done. I don’t pretend to have figured out every piece of that–I don’t think anyone has–but the people in the schools I profile have important insights into how to make public education work. We ignore those insights at our peril. If all these educators do is draw the jeers and taunts of their fellow teachers who see them as threats and anomalies,rather than resources, we will not be able to move the debate and the field of education forward.

    And now I will draw an end to my participation in this. Have a great Fourth of July.

  10. Who is taunting and jeering successful teachers? I’m certainly not minimizing their accomplishments. Their schools are anomalies, but they are not threats. And I just suggested that you could do a great service by doing what you just said – showcasing their insights.

    My compaint is the way you and the Ed Trust, showcase their achievements to promote NCLB, to attack collective bargaining, and often to demonize teachers. (Just because you refuse to answer my arguments, for instance, I’m not accusing you of demonizing me. If you’ve witnessed the teachers jeering and taunting, that is one thing, but I’ve never seen it happen ….)

    My complaint is your political positions. My complaint is the misuse of evidence to promote a political agenda. You are free to make your points and to walk away without participating in a dialogue. That may be good politics. Good education policy, however, should stand up to debate. And I am old-fashioned enough top believe that there is no shame in losing a debate, and when evidence does not stand up to scrutiny there is no shame in issuing an apology. I could even draft one:

    “The Ed Trust is a young political organization that has attracted young talent to the civil rightys movement of the 20th century. Our fresh eyes have brought new insights into funding disparities, and the uninteneded effects of many collective bargaining positions on poor children. We challenged the conventional wisdom that has dominated the profession from the Coleman Report. We misjudged, however, the balance between the roles of classroom instruction vs. family, health, and economic factors. WE especially would like to recognize Richard Rothstein and Douglass Harris for demonstrating the flaws in our methodolgy. We welcome the wisdom of the Bolder Broader Challenge, and seek an open exchange on the relative efficacy of school-based vs. community-based reforms. Of course, our children need both.

    I’ll admit, though, that I wish you had addressed my actual arguments. But to imply that I see successful schools as threats is comparable to saying that I blame the videotape of a bear and a photo of the rising sun for Supply Side Economics. It was the Reagan “Bear in the Woods” advertisment, not the prop, that drew upon the fears and resentments of the voters. And it was the “Morning in America” ad, not the rising sun that perpetuated Voodoo economics.
    My complaint is that progressives took an “ends justify the means” approach, borrowing Rightwing political tactics. I don’t doubt that you never intended to produce excessive test prep or narrow the curriculum. But your plea of innocence is comparable to the old story of a person killing his parents and asking for mercy as an orphan. Of course it was school systems not the letter of NCLB that did the harm. But most people who supported NCLB are now willing to discuss ways to make it less destructive.

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