Friday, March 30, 2012

An all boys SE charter school

Former SSHS (and Wayne) principal Thomas Smith has received approval from Grace College for an all boys charter school in SE Fort Wayne. As principal of SSHS and before that Miami middle school, Mr. Smith is fully aware of the difficulty in educating young black males. He is probably on the right track with an all boys school, since recent studies suggest they help boys do significantly better academically.

Of course Ms. Frisco at the JG objects to the religious connection with grace College. Then she questions if Mr. smith has the experience for such a venture. A decade as principal of SSHS apparently is not good enough for Ms. Frisco. What she's really questioning without saying so is Mr. Smith's competence. Funny she never questioned that while he was working for Wendy and SSHS (and all the other FWCS high schools) was going down the road to a state takeover. Actually she's opposed to anything except more of the same as FWCS

I had several conversations with Mr. Smith when I tutored at SSHS. My take, and his as well, was that he could do very little when he had no control over the kids he got (socially promoted) from the middle schools. He was well liked by the students and the teachers, many of whom tried to follow him to Wayne. He will have an opportunity to prove his administrative abilities with this charter school and we should all hope he succeeds where FWCS has failed.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Same thing in the land of cotton

Reading the papers during our winter stay in Bluffton, SC, it seemed like the only thing different surrounding the public schools was the scenery. In Bluffton and Hilton Head Island across the intracoastal canal the public schools are 60% black and Hispanic and "minority" passing rates on their state tests are around 40%. Business groups on the island are setting up learning centers to give kids access to technology and tutoring outside normal school hours. A good idea but probably way short of what's needed.

Four years ago Bluffton won a referendum for a new $150MM school complex. About 15% of registered voters showed up and it passed by less than 100 votes. Residents of the nearby SUN CITY, who were previously concerned only about their two overcrowded golf courses and maintenance fees are now complaining about their property taxes. Elections have consequences even if you don't vote. Improved test scores, unfortunately, were not a consequence.

Thirty minutes up the road in scenic Beaufort (setting for The Big Chill) the high school principal was forced to resign for altering 200 grades of 33 students. He explained he was trying to inspire unmotivated students to graduate and thought education was about nurturing and not testing. Changing grades was OK as long as he followed the prescribed procedure but he didn't, breaking the law, and giving the board no choice. Many students and parents were outraged that a "good guy" had to step down. Others wondered about the integrity of the whole system, calling it "academically bankrupt".

Over in Atlanta, they're still dealing with the aftermath of a cheating scandal. Eigth grade passing rates had risen by 14% over seven years under superintendent Beverely Hall. That's an average of 2% a year. After Ms Hall retired in 2009, investigative reporter Heather Vogell of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, questioning some of the numbers, got a statistician to examine the data. That led to an investigation which uncovered widespread, organized cheating by principals and (over 200) teachers who still haven't been fired.

Here in Indiana ISTEP+ scores jumped 5% statewide (6% in FWCS) when the state switched to spring testing two years ago. If 2% average increases are unrealistic, what does that say about a 6% jump at FWCS in one year. Lacking any investigative reporting into the difficulty of the new tests, it says we need to pop out the champagne, like Wendy and GiaQuinta did. And since Ms. Hall had received national recognition as superintendent of the year (Arne Duncan was extremely disppointed), nominate Wendy for superintendent of the century and give her a big raise.