The Entire Proposal and Research can be found here : City In Crisis – Improving Public Education in Savannah GA
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The American dream is the belief that we can do whatever we put our minds to, that the limits to our success are the limits that we place on our own dreams, and that our children will be able to succeed greater than we can even imagine. Throughout history, we celebrate our winners while little is noted about those that fail. We elevate those who beat the odds, like the football team that comes back from behind to clinch the title in the last minutes of the last game, or the business leader that go from rags to riches. General Patton summed up our feelings when he stated that, “America loves a winner. America will not tolerate a loser.”
Our quest to achieve success starts in America’s homes, communities, and public schools. Yet, if we look around today, we find ourselves facing a crisis that threatens to cripple the future of our country. Recent estimates show that nearly a quarter of our nation’s high school students fail to graduate, a fact made even worse by the rapid advancement of highly technical and skilled trades and the off shoring of traditional low skilled occupations. However, this country fails to address this problem either due to ignorance, as over one third of the high schools in this country have graduation rates above 90%, or disbelief, as evidenced by the failure of this nation to confront this problem.
Where you end up depends on where you start, and Savannah, Georgia is one tough place to start. The odds are stacked against students entering the freshman class in Savannah, Georgia. Six out of seven of the public schools in the city have a promoting power of less than 60%, in other words for every 10 students entering high school, 6 or fewer students will make it to the
Improving Public Education in Savannah 312th grade. (Johns Hopkins University) The lone school with a promoting power greater than 60% is the Savannah Arts Academy, a magnet school dedicated to the arts that enrolls students from all 11-district middle schools as well as out of county students on a tuition basis. The Savannah Arts Academy had a promoting power of 77% in 2006, 83% in 2005, and 70% in 2004.
Every major issue facing the City of Savannah intersects with the performance of the public school system. Closing the graduation gap will lower crime, reduce welfare costs, increase the middle class, and reduce poverty. (Balfanz R. , 2007) Research has shown that dropouts are eight times more likely to end up in jail and two times more likely to end up in poverty. (Bridgeland, DiIulio, & Morison, 2006) The same study concluded that the estimated cost to the country for each dropout that follows the slippery slope into gangs, drugs, and crime costs between $1.7 million and $2.3 million over his or her lifetime. (Bridgeland, DiIulio, & Morison, 2006)
This paper will examine existing literature on identifying potential high school dropouts before they leave school and the successful intervention programs that other cities facing similar problems have implemented. The focus is on three programs in particular that are working today in Baltimore and Philadelphia City Schools. Analysis of data from the Georgia Education Department will aid in identifying areas of the Savannah Chatham County Public School System (SCCPS) that could benefit from the programs that these cities have undertaken. The goal of this research project is to increase the visibility of these alternative teaching methods among SCCPSS administrators, board members, and the general population. The hope is to connect leaders in Savannah with the Center for Social Organization in Schools and eventually see through a plan that will not only reduce the number of dropouts in the next decade, but also make learning more interesting for students in the school district. F Scott Fitzgerald said, “The test of first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in the mind at the same time and still be able to function.” I challenge those reading this report to keep an open mind and evaluate the proposed actions for reversing this serious trend in the Savannah school system objectively.
To accomplish the goals above it is imperative to build a case for reform in Savannah’s schools as well as examine the various causes of the problems that face the city. First, the paper will focus on graduation rates in Savannah as well as the problem of data transparency in America’s schools. Second, the paper will look at literature focused on defining dropouts and understanding the reasons our students give when they dropout in the section, who are America’s dropouts? Third, the focus is placed on truancy and its role in the dropout crisis in Savannah, as well as a brief review of the policies that SCCPS intends to implement in late 2008 or early 2009. Next, the focus will be placed on behavior modification, through the lens of businesses and employee motivation, which can be applied to student motivation. Afterwards, the parallels between the Savannah metropolitan area and the Baltimore metropolitan area are highlighted. Three programs that were developed for the Baltimore City Schools will be profiled as well as a list of recommendations for changing the SCCPSS in the following section of the paper. Finally, the conclusion is an open letter to the residents of Savannah.
This research study relies heavily on data that have been released by the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement (GOSA). Demographics, attendance, retention rates, reading, and math scores for the academic years 2003 – 2004, 2004 – 2005, 2005 – 2006, and 2006 – 2007 are obtained from the Governor’s Report Cards for each of the years. The data was then aggregated from the smaller spreadsheets into a large dataset with the school ID as reported by the state of Georgia as the primary key. Currently, state data is reported in a series of bar charts that are hard to read, and even harder to track over time. The focus is often directed to areas where students are already successful, leading the public to believe that the situation is less dire than it really is. An example of the state reporting structure is in figure 2 in the appendix. The state provided data, which has been converted to allow readers to follow trends and see school-by-school performance data, these tables and figures are found in the appendix as well.
What is in a Graduation Rate?
“The task is not so much to see what no one yet has seen, but to think what nobody has yet thought about that which everyone sees.” Arthur Schopenhauer
One of the major problems that the public faces when evaluating schools is the lack of transparent data. The data sets rarely conform to a uniform standard. The simple term “graduation rate” can be derived using varied formulas all of which cloud the meaning of the term. To the average person the graduation rate is simply the number of students who receive a high school diploma. However, to the various school districts and states the term graduation rate can include whole sets of students that do not receive degrees. The transparency problem is not so much in the formulas that are used. The real problem is that the school districts fail to educate the public about the methods used. The graphs, charts and sound bites produced by school districts today appear to be created for those interested in a cursory view; the real data often
Improving Public Education in Savannah 6
remains hidden. The result of this marketing effort is that the real problems facing our schools remain hidden behind the pictures of smiling students and PowerPoint pie charts that grace so many school reports. The fact that this is going on is no secret, the problem is also visible to those in charge of our Nation’s education system. In fact, in a press release issued April 01, 2008 the US Secretary of Education, Margaret Spellings, stated that one of the reasons the “silent epidemic” has gone on so long is that the data is “masked or minimized by inconsistent and opaque data reporting systems.” (US Department of Education, 2008) Ms. Spellings went on to point out that in some systems students are counted as a dropout only when they register as one with a local office. In other districts, a student that states his or her intention to take and pass the GED test sometime in the future is counted as a graduate. This is unacceptable. This not only aids in hiding underperforming students and school systems, it is also used to elevate school systems that would otherwise be rated as average. Like many of the problems in this paper, the transparency problem facing schools today is not new or unknown. In fact, in 2005 all 50 state governors signed the National Governors Association’s Graduation Rate Compact pledging to adhere to a standard set of formulas for calculating graduation rates (National Governors Association, 2005). The first recommendation the Governors agreed to was to report the graduation rate using the following formula.
Graduation rate = [on-time graduates in year x] ÷ [(first-time entering ninth graders in year x – 4) + (transfers in) – (transfers out)] (National Governors Association, 2005)
The report went further; defining graduates are “those who earn a diploma.” On-time graduation is defined as “four years and can include those graduating in the summer of a given year.” In Georgia, the graduation rate is calculated by what some call a “leaver rate” using the formula below. (Governor’s Office of Student Achievement, 2008)
Graduation rate = (# of students who graduate with a regular diploma) ÷ (# of 9th-12th grade dropouts from appropriate years + graduates + other completers)
The state of Georgia acknowledges that the “graduation rate” is a “proxy calculation” that reflects an estimate of the percentage of students who entered ninth grade and graduated four years later.” Georgia is not alone in using the leaver rate, as thirty-one other states report using this statistical method. (Governor’s Office of Student Achievement, 2008)
There are four other calculations that are acceptable for reporting graduation rates in accordance with the No Child Left Behind act that are currently used in the fifty states. The diverse ways a person can calculate the graduation rate allows for varying graduation rates depending on the source of the data. For example, the 2004-2005 academic year graduation rate in the Savannah Chatham County Public School System (SCCPSS) as reported by the state of Georgia is 69%. The same district when using the Cumulative Promotion Index has only a 41.8% graduation rate for the 2004-2005 academic year. (Edweek, 2008) The Cumulative Promotion Index uses the following formula:
Graduation rate = (10th graders, fall 2005 / 9th graders, fall 2004) X (11th graders, fall 2005 / 10th graders, fall 2004) X (12th graders, fall 2005 / 11th graders, fall 2004) X (Diploma recipients, spring 2005 / 12th graders, fall 2004)
This paper will use ‘Promoting Power’ as the method of analysis for the SCCPSS high schools. Promoting power is a comparison of the number of students currently in the twelfth grade with the number of students that started the ninth grade four years earlier. In other words, how many students made it through school in the four years that high school should take, without being retained? For example, a freshman class of 1000 in 2003 and a senior class of 800 in 2007 would result in a promoting power of 80%. The raw data for the promoting power calculations comes from the U.S. Department of Education’s Common Core of Data, and has been calculated by the Alliance for Excellence in Education.
According to the Center for Social Organization in Schools, whose researchers created promoting power, have discovered there are two factors that may skew the promoting power numbers. First, the calculation does not account for students that drop out of high school during the 12th grade year. This limitation is a result of the fact that the Department of Education does not have data on graduation rates for all high schools. This limitation may inflate the promoting power of schools. Second, in areas that face sudden population shifts, new schools, or district rezoning, promoting power will be underestimated. The Johns Hopkins Center for Social Organization of Schools has analyzed migration data and concluded that no more than 5% of the schools will face this problem within the four-year reporting period. (Center for Social Organization of Schools)
The Johns Hopkins Center for Social Organization in Schools in Baltimore, labels schools with year over year promoting power ratings less than 60% ‘dropout factories’. The term symbolizes the production of dropouts by certain schools in a methodical manner just as Ford uses an assembly line to produce automobiles. The outcome of these schools could be summarized by a quote from a parent found in the Washington Post about one of Washington, DC’s troubled schools, “You could have a perfectly normal child, and he would get flipped here like a pancake.” (Turque, 2008) By focusing on this method of calculation, it is possible to see which schools are doing a good job of promoting students on time, which as stated above is one of the core factors in the National Governors Association graduation rate formula.
Data on the SCCPSS shows that the average promoting power for the entire County in 2004 was 48.67%, in 2005, it was 50.57% and finally, in 2006 the promoting power was 52.48%. In 2004, 2005, and 2006 the only school in Savannah that had a promoting power over 60% was the Savannah Arts Academy, a charter school that accepted students from throughout the district as well as tuition paying students from other districts. In the other six high schools in the SCCPSS the situation was bleak. In 2006, out of the seven district high schools, three had a promoting power that fell into the 50% range, two fell into the 40% range, and there was one school that was in the 30% range.2 In 2005, two schools fell in the 40% range, 50% range, and 30% range. In 2004, there were three schools that fell in the 40% range, one that fell in the 30% range and two that fell in the 50% range. Nationally, research has shown that only one out of every ten schools in the nation has a promoting power of less than 60%, which puts the situation in perspective, for a city with only one school performing above 60%. Further information can be found in table one in the appendix, which contains the year over year promoting power of all public high schools in the SCCPSS.
To put it bluntly, if you are a high school freshman in Chatham County, odds are you will not finish on time if you finish at all. Schools with a promoting power this low tend to contain overage students, due to retention in earlier grades. These students will lose interest in learning, show up for school less than their peers, and eventually, drop out of high school. (Balfanz, Herzog, & Mac Iver, 2007) Recognizing the problem is simple, the data above confirms what many already suspect, and students are leaving Savannah’s public schools in droves.
The problem in Savannah is even more critical considering the alternatives for families not willing to attend a low promoting power school become either private schools, moving out of the district, or never moving to the district in the first place, which could be detrimental to local businesses and the local economy. Moving students from one school to another as this district has done in the past and is proposing to do again in the future will serve only to lower scores in some schools while raising scores in others. This fact is illustrated in the tables in the appendix that show changes in math, attendance, and reading scores in Savannah over the past three years.
To put the graph into context for those unfamiliar with the SCCPSS, the past three years have seen students gain the right to transfer from failing schools to non-failing schools. In the short term, this will give the appearance of progress in areas that have seen too little real progress, in the long term, this may actually have the impact of accelerating the dropout crisis in the community as more and more students become disenfranchised and start looking for a way out. The real result of the shifting student population has been to tag all of the High Schools in Savannah as underperforming evidenced by drastic changes in performance indicators seen in the tables in the appendix that correspond to highly publicized changes in attendance zones as required by federal legislation when a school fails to make adequate progress.
This problem is not confined to Chatham County. Therefore, a careful review of what others have discovered about high school dropouts and the reasons that students drop out, and more importantly, what can be done to stem the tide of dropouts is needed.
Who are America’s High School Dropouts?
“Failure is an option, but losing without learning isn’t,” was the title of an article that appeared in the Washington Post recently, but we all know that failure in America is brushed off without a second thought, gone are the days where philosophers would dwell on the problems of the time. In today’s age everything must be quantified, categorized, and summarized. We all become statistics. Statisticians scrutinize all of us, but the data that the numbers reveal is only as good as the data that is entered, and often forces all of us to fit a very small group of categories.
In 2006, the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation sponsored a major study that focused on determining who was dropping out of America’s high schools and why those that choose to drop out did so. The study differed from the majority of studies that have been done on the subject in one very important aspect; the source of the data was to be interviews with 467 high school dropouts from around the country, not the piles of data reported up from the schools each year on attendance, race, or income. The sample included urban, suburban, and rural students from across the country. These individuals came from a variety of backgrounds and were an ethnically diverse group. The results of the study were surprising, as they seemed to counter the ‘popular’ myths perpetuated by major the academic ‘experts’ on the subject. The study found that 47% of the respondents stated that they lacked interest in school, and therefore decided to drop out. Therefore, the top reason for failure to complete school was not due to teenage pregnancy, the need to help with bills or bring money into the household or even drugs or alcohol, it was boredom, or a lack of rigorous coursework that challenged students that drove them from the halls of our nation’s schools to our nation’s streets. Although, only 47% cited a lack of interest as the major reason for dropping out, 80% of those surveyed stated that they were not inspired by the coursework. Furthermore, 66% of the respondents stated that they would have done more in high school if the teachers and administrators had just asked for more of them, in other words the preoccupation with test scores that is creating an education system where mediocrity is the rule is doing more harm than good.
On the other end of the spectrum, 35% of the former students had gotten behind in their work and felt that it would be impossible to catch up. Here lies a major problem for the current education system, how do you teach for the 47% that will leave due to the fact that they are board with the lessons, and the 35% that feel the course work is too difficult and give up? One of the major lessons that administrators and teachers have to face is that you are not able to help everyone, there are those that will not keep up, the question then becomes, do we lower the bar in order to get more people over it, do we raise the bar challenging our students to reach higher, or do we settle where we are accepting mediocrity.
When this group of former high school students was asked what might have made them stay in school, 81% wished that courses would have been more relevant to everyday situations, that there was a connection between what happens during the school day with the rest of the day. The same percentage also wished they had ‘better’ teachers. The study also found that there was several ‘early warning’ signs that had administrators and teachers been aware of could have led to interventions that stopped the dropout process. The first major sign of potential failure was attendance. In fact, 43% of the dropouts felt that they had missed too much school and would not be able to catch up for that reason. Other signs that the study found indicated a student was a strong candidate for dropping out included failing courses, being retained in a grade, pregnancy, and being suspended or expelled from school.
Present and Accounted For
If you stop to view the long path towards graduation that a student must navigate, it becomes clear that 66% of the route does not wind through our nation’s high schools. Looking closer, we can see that learning starts in our communities and homes well before our first steps into the Kindergarten classroom. Eventually, we all make it to the steps of the schoolhouse. Common sense should tell us that problems leading to reduced high graduation rates have their roots in the lower grades. Well before we realized that attendance was an indicator of failure common sense also told us that in order to learn and do well in school, students have to be present and engaged. Therefore, we should realize, but often overlook the fact that the first day of high school is not the right time to start worrying about our schools graduation rate. Common sense should also tell us that you must be present in order to learn. The state attendance data reveals that as students progress through the grades attendance rates slip. A second study aimed at determining what ‘markers’ serve as an indicator of the propensity to drop out of high school has shown that students that attend school less than 80% of the time were 75% more likely to drop out than their peers. Furthermore, only 60% of this cohort would progress to the 9th grade on time. (Balfanz, Herzog, & Mac Iver, 2007)
A recent study of the Savannah school district by the National Center for Children in Poverty praised the Savannah school district for their efforts at combating chronic absenteeism. (Chang, 2008) It is true that the district has a comprehensive set of rules in place to combat truancy. In the SCCPSS, a truant is clearly defined as a student that has missed more than five days of school in an academic year. After five unexcused absences, the school then has the responsibility to contact the truant child’s parents. Once the parents have been notified, the school has the right under Georgia law to file charges in Juvenile or State Court against the parent. (Savannah Chatham County School Board, 2008) The state of Georgia has taken a proactive approach to truancy and requires schools to report any students aged 14 or older that miss 10 or more unexcused days in a semester to the State Board of Education. The State Board of Education is then required to report these students to the Department of Motor Vehicle Safety, which may suspend or revoke the students driving privileges. These tough policies although eloquent on paper do not amount to much unless enforced at the school and local level.
The National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP) defines chronic absenteeism as missing greater than 11% of the school year. Moderate absence is defined as missing between 5.5% and 11% of the school year. Finally, a low rate of absenteeism is defined as missing between 0% and 5.5% of the school year. By analyzing attendance data from the Georgia Board of Education and the number of school days, which is 180, it is possible to determine the number schools facing chronic absenteeism in Savannah. State data shows the number of students absent 5 or fewer days, from 6 to 15 days, and more than 15 days as a percentage of the school population. Therefore, we can only be certain from readily available attendance data, which students are in the high end of moderate to chronic profile, which starts at 20 days for the SCCPSS. Both of the other state categories will fall into the moderate range of the NCCP absenteeism definitions. Data taken from the State Accountability report cards and analyzed with other data sets within the report card, are located in the appendices, paint a picture of rampant absenteeism.
In Savannah’s High Schools on average, more than 20% of the students are absent more than 15 days a year. In Savannah High School, that number jumped to 39% for the 2006-2007 academic year. (State of Georgia Governor’s Office of Student Achievement) The attendance trends for Savannah’s High schools are essentially flat over the four year period studied, showing a 2% overall decline from 23.86% during the 2003-2004 school year to 21.91% in the 2006-2007 school year. This masks the differences in the changes per school, which were for the most part more positive than the system wide change. For example, Johnson High School realized a 6.6% decrease in the number of students absent 15 or more days during the same time period, Windsor Forest High School had a 9.7% decrease, The Savannah Arts Academy had a 6.2% decrease, and Groves High School has a 3.2% decrease. On the other hand, Savannah High School has seen an 11.6% increase in students who miss 15 or more days of school a year, Beach, and Jenkins High School increased by 0.2% and 0.3% respectively.
In Savannah’s middle schools, the situation is better with no schools posting double digit gains, and nine out of twelve schools posting declines in the number of students that miss 15 days or more per year. There are however, still two schools, Tompkins Middle School and Hubert Middle School, where over 20% of the student body misses 15 or more days. The full table on middle school enrollment can be found in the appendices under the heading ‘Table 3’. There should be no excuse for the number of students in middle school that miss this much school, as these are students who for the most part are under the age of sixteen, the legal dropout age in Georgia.
The super attendant of schools, as well as the mayor, and community at large support enforcing the rules that are on the books, and the city is even looking at an ordinance that would fine or send parents of truant children to community service. In a recent public hearing on the ordinance Dr. Lockamy, the SCCPSS super attendant stated, “This ordinance will help me enforce the code of conduct for students, and it really puts some teeth into what we’re saying to students in we’re not going to tolerate this, and we really mean this and then when the parents don’t want to cooperate, we have something now that we can grab hold of and say you know, here’s an ordinance you’ve got to work with us, so I think you’re going to see a difference.”
The intent of the ordinance may be noble, however, the real problem with a uniform application of the Parental Responsibility Ordinance is that an unintended consequence may very well be dramatic increases in the number of students who drop out once they reach 16, which is the legal age in Georgia. The ordinance would give the parents of truant children over the age of 16 a powerful incentive to push their children out of school, the threat of the authorities on their doorstep. In order to make this ordinance work as intended it would be helpful if the state raised the minimum drop out age to 18. The root of such an ordinance is to kick the offending students into school, using their parents as the weapon of choice. This plan was devised by individuals that believe parents can truly change the behavior of their children, and while this may be the case for the majority who do show up for school, it will certainly not hold true for those that already show indifference. More attention needs to be paid to the reasons why students do not show up for school, changing the ‘why’ will negate the need for complex plans focused on the ‘how’. The studies cited in this paper reveal that the decision to drop out of school is not one that is made in a split second. It would be naive to believe that you get out of bed one day and just decide to drop out. The truth is truancy is a call for help, for support, not a call for punishment. Again, placing students in a classroom that they do not want to be in is not the answer to the crisis that the city is facing; instead, the city should look into ways to make the classroom a place that students look forward to entering every day.
Forget praise. Forget punishment. Forget cash. You need to make their education more interesting.
Frederick Herzberg, professor of management at the University of Utah, explained why the physical or mental ‘kick’ that management or the administration uses to promote behaviors is not actually motivation in the paper, One More Time, How Do You Motivate Employees. Hertzberg stated that he could give his dog a kick when he wanted the dog to perform a trick, and the dog would move, however, if Hertzberg wanted the dog to move again he would have to kick the dog again. (Herzberg, 2003) The goal is to get the dog to move because it wants to.
The real goal with a school reform is to change behaviors. Behaviors can only change when you make something so interesting or enjoyable that individuals want to participate. Many studies have been conducted in an attempt to answer the age old question, “How do you motivate employees?” One of the most validated has been the ‘two-theory’ studies conducted in the late 1950’s. The studies were conducted by asking employees what caused job satisfaction and what caused job dissatisfaction. It was found that the results from what causes job satisfaction were not the opposite of what causes job dissatisfaction, therefore the groups were separated into what
Hertzberg called motivators and hygiene factors. Hygiene factors had to be maintained in order to create an atmosphere where motivation is prevalent, but the presence of motivators by themselves would not cause job satisfaction. Chart one in the appendices shows that the major factors that equate to job satisfaction are achievement, recognition, work itself, responsibility, advancement, and growth. In contrast, the factors that equate to job dissatisfaction are company policy and administration, supervision, relationship with supervisor, work conditions, salary, and relationship with peers, personal life, status, and security. Hertzberg suggests that jobs be enriched to increase motivation. The process of enriching a job is called job loading, and there are two types of ‘loading’ that have been identified in the business world. The first and most common type of job loading is called ‘horizontal loading’, which Hertzberg argues, “merely enlarges the meaninglessness of the job.”4 One example that we should be weary of in the age of standardized testing include, removing all of the challenging aspects of the task in order to let the individual concentrate on the simple tasks. Hertzberg makes the case for ‘vertical’ loading as a means of motivating employees or students in this case. The key parts of vertical job loading include: removing controls while retaining accountability, increasing students’ accountability for their own work in order, introduce new and difficult assignments. Removing controls while retaining accountability serves to increase responsibility and give those involved a sense of achievement. This would be the same sense of achievement that respondents in the study of drop outs above were craving.
The school system is now in the business of changing behaviors, by experimenting with various incentive schemes. If we are to look toward the business sector, which has studied motivation in relation to the workforce, we can see that intrinsic rewards are far more important than extrinsic rewards. Simply put, workers are more motivated by interesting and challenging work, responsibility, and the felling that they can achieve their goals within the organization than they are with perks, corner offices, or large bonuses. (Herzberg, 2003) Extrinsic rewards are those that are external to the individual that you are attempting to motivate. Common extrinsic rewards are, pay, public recognition, or punishment / reward schemes. When most people think about motivation it is extrinsic rewards that come to mind. Intrinsic rewards, on the other hand, are those that are internal to the individual being motivated, these rewards are often described by individuals as being ‘priceless’. Common intrinsic motivators are interesting tasks, challenging or difficult tasks, and responsibility. Some researchers have even summarized extrinsic rewards as things you have to do and extrinsic as things you want to do, which is a fair summary given that research has shown that extrinsic motivators are far stronger than intrinsic motivators.
Give School meaning. It sounds simple; however, public school administrations have struggled with this concept for generations. Research done on dropouts in Montreal has shown that students that drop out fall into four general types, the ‘Quiet Dropouts’, the ‘Disengaged Dropouts’, the ‘Low Achiever Dropouts’, and the ‘Maladjusted Dropouts’. (Balfanz, Herzog, & Mac Iver, 2007) This same study found that two groups of students, the quiet dropouts and the maladjusted dropouts, made up between 77% and 85% of the total number of students that dropout. The quest dropouts are categorized as those that do not display behavior problems, and show a good level of commitment, however, do not achieve academically. The maladjusted dropout is, as the title would suggest, the student who gets into trouble frequently, and ends up being placed out of the system by the system.
Real World Lessons
The current situation in Savannah mirrors the real problems that several urban areas in the United States face. A series of recent reforms in Baltimore and Philadelphia have yielded results in schools that have similar demographics as those in Savannah. If we look at Baltimore’s history we see almost a mirror image of Savannah’s, they are in a sense sister cities. In the late 1950s and early 1960s Baltimore was a city of nearly million residents, however, as the decades passed Baltimore’s population followed a path of steady decline settling at an estimated 635,000 residents today. The demographic makeup of the city shifted dramatically as many whites moved out of the city to the suburbs, in fact over that same time period white school age children decreased 76% and the number of African American children increased by over 100%. (Legters, Balfanz, Will, & McPartland, 2002) The poverty rate in Baltimore increased over the same time and in 1992 nearly 60% of Baltimore’s public schools had a student population of 45% or more that were living under the poverty level.
In addition, if we look at crime statistics in table sixteen we see that Savannah leads Baltimore in rape, burglary, larceny, motor vehicle theft, robbery with a gun, and assault with a gun. The robbery rates were nearly identical with Savannah having 258 incidents per 100,000 residents, and Baltimore with a slightly higher rate of 262 robberies per 100,000 residents. The murder rate was 9 per 100,000 in Savannah and 12.5 per 100,000 in Baltimore. What’s worse many of these crimes are being committed by high school dropouts, such as the recent shooting of Jatinkumar Patel by a 17 year old high school dropout that went on a three day crime spree that included two other armed robberies.
What we can see is that Baltimore parallels Savannah in many ways demographically and socially, but they do differ economically, as Baltimore has a large banking community that is not present in Savannah. Baltimore is also the home of one of the most respected Universities in the United States, Johns Hopkins. The Center for Social Organization of Schools (CSOS) at Johns Hopkins is devoted to studying new methods that can be used to improve education in America. Several of the programs that they have developed have been implemented in schools in the Baltimore area with documented success. These programs targeted the same problems that exist in Savannah. The center reaches their self stated goal, to “study how changes in the social organization of schools can make them more effective for all students in promoting academic achievement, development of potential, and eventual career success” by implementing changes in the environment, and realizing that when you change the environment those within the environment will also change.
Talent Development Middle Grades
The first program specifically designed to tackle many of the problems facing urban schools, such as high levels of absenteeism, low expectations, disenfranchised students, high retention rates, and poor family and community networks is the Talent Development Middle Grades (TDMG) program. This program completely reorganizes a school’s curriculum, and was designed for schools that contained a high number of students living in poverty. As with the other Talent Development models discussed in this paper, perhaps the most important aspect, is the belief that all of those involved in the education process from the administrators to the teachers to the students and parents accept responsibility for their actions and accept nothing less than success. In this aspect, schools could take a cue from the Marines and adopt the unofficial mantra, “improvise, adapt, and overcome”.
In the TDMG program, the way that reading, writing and arithmetic is taught is different than what one would normally expect. In many schools teachers stand in front of the class and deliver their lesson to the course in what is best described as a one-way method of communication. The TDMG curriculum focuses on the traditional direct teaching method as well as a partner session, where students are placed into groups of four and take turns reading the assignment to each other, and finally, there is course discussion and an evaluation process that takes place. The groups are made up of students with varying degrees of reading ability by placing a top level reader and a low level reader with two average readers. All of these actions take place every day for every course taught. The grouping is put into place to combat the short attention span that some students have, common sense tells us that we are less likely to drift off when we are engaged in one on one communication. To ensure that the groups are able to function together socially, students in the TDMG model are taught the social skills necessary to interact with their peers.
Another very important part of the program that contributes to a higher level of student engagement is that the books that are chosen to read in class are timely and culturally relevant to the student population.
The TDMG math program focuses on building students up the algebra level by the end of the 8th grade. This is done by using the University of Chicago, Everyday Mathematics program. This program focuses on real-life math problems, group and teacher based instruction, group discussion which allows students to verbalize math problems, periodic progress reports sent to the parents of students, and the use of calculators in the classroom. (University of Chicago , 2008) The math section of the TDMG model receives the most attention in the press, and is the part of the program that shows the greatest increase in student performance. Research conducted on students in the Philadelphia school system revealed that the percentage of students performing at the lowest quarter of the Pennsylvania state assessment test went from 75% to 45% six years later. To be fair, in the same time period the schools that did not implement the program went from 75% to 56% scoring in the lowest quarter of the state assessment in math. There was nevertheless an 11% increase in the scores of students that were enrolled in a school that used the TDMG model. (Balfanz, Herzog, & Mac Iver, 2007)
In order to make these changes, a group of specialists in the TDMG math and English curriculum is assigned to the school implementing the program. The goal of this team is to ensure that teachers in the school receive the proper support in teaching the curriculum, this is not the type of plan where educators are left to implement sweeping changes based on their ability to ‘study at home’.
Talent Development High Schools
The second program developed to combat the dropout crisis is the Talent Development High School program. The program is a comprehensive reform of the school curriculum, and culture, turning schools, where challenging curriculum is not the norm, into schools that challenge students to achieve and teaches teachers to demand more from their students. The talent development model was first implemented in Philadelphia high schools in the mid nineties, and is now used in schools in 16 states, including Georgia where D. M. Therrell High School in Atlanta, Georgia has implemented the model. This model is not the next fad in school reform, research has been done on the Philadelphia school system, the first system to implement the program and the results have been promising. For Savannah, the parallels between the high schools in both cities are amazing. Consider the state of the Philadelphia school system at the time of the program’s implementation; it was a system where only 40% of the freshman class made it to their senior year on time. Only 61% of the freshman class succeeded to make it to their sophomore year on time. Attendance was also a considerable problem in Philadelphia, where 58% of the student in the critical first year of high school missed on average one day a week.
Research done on this decade old reform model, to validate the effectiveness of this model, has revealed that the use of this model leads to improvements in several key areas including graduation rates. Specifically, attendance realized an increase, the number of students that passed their courses increased, and the number of students that were retained decreased. These changes were realized in just the first year that the program was introduced to the school. Even more promising is the fact that the improvements followed the students through their high school careers, meaning that after four years of implementing the Talent Development model, more students were at the higher grades, and more of those students were graduating.
The reason that the improvements in the higher grades were realized only after the first freshman class progressed is due to the ninth grade academy, the most successful component of the Talent Development model. The ninth grade academy could be viewed as a school within a school. The administrators in schools that implemented the model either blocked off a section of the school or designated a wing of the school as the ninth grade area, no other grades were allowed in this space. Next, the entire freshman class is broken into groups of 90 to 100 students; this structure ensures that the same group of teachers teaches these groups. The educators are given a schedule that includes a common planning period, which is even more helpful considering that the teachers all share the same group of students. An experienced teacher is assigned to the group as the ‘team lead’, this position requires an individual that can handle discipline problems, and interact with both the students and the parents of troubled students. The curriculum is perhaps the most striking difference between what is currently being done in today’s schools and what needs to be done to help students achieve success at grade level. Before any progress is to be made, educators, administrators, and the public need to realize that an alarming number of students reach the ninth grade unable to perform at the ninth grade standards. Students often come into class lacking the skills to complete freshmen algebra, therefore, the first semester in the Talent Development model is comprised of four courses, a transitional math course, strategic reading, science, and freshman seminar. Both the math and reading courses are twice as long as a standard class period. In contrast, a more traditional curriculum might include English 1, algebra, social studies and history, science, physical education, and an elective of the students choosing. The second semester in the Talent Development model’s freshman year is comprised of algebra, English 1, social studies and history, and an elective. Again, both English 1 and algebra are twice as long as the traditional course.
Another main change in the schools culture was the fact that at report card time, the student would sit down with his or her teachers and they would conduct a ‘performance evaluation’ much like the evaluation that employees receive at most work places. This evaluation is then repeated with the parents of the students. This brings the educator into the learning process, shows the students that their teacher is genuinely interested in their progress and not just putting in their time. Make no mistake; just this change will take a commitment that many educators have failed to make in so many urban schools.
The teaching staff at Talent Development schools is given extensive training in the changes that implementing this program will require. It is imperative that the administration implementing these changes encourage, or even mandate that educators willing to take part in the ninth grade academy take advantage of the continuing education that is provided by the sponsor of this program, John Hopkins University’s Center for Research on Students Placed at Risk (CRESPAR).
Finally, another component of the Talent Development model that will benefit Savannah’s student population is the Twilight Academy, which is aimed at students that have been retained in the ninth grade, are in trouble academically, face personal circumstances that prevent them from attending school during the normal school day, or have behavior problems that prevent them from attending school regularly. As the name suggests, the Twilight Academy is held after normal school hours. The existence of this component allows teachers to place these students outside of the regular class, which helps those students that are placed in the Twilight academy as they receive focused instruction, as well as the students of the regular class, who no longer have a student that is disrupting the class, or slowing the general pace of instruction in the classroom. Students in the Twilight Academy are able to get back into the regular class by excelling in this special program. This may be considered the last hope for many students that would otherwise face suspension, expulsion, or a future without a high school diploma.
Finally, a series of incentives designed to recognize students’ performance is put in place during the ninth grade academy. The word incentive in education today is a charged word pitting the pay for grades community against those who are opposed to such measures. In the context of this program incentives may be as simple as displaying the names of students making progress, achieving perfect attendance, or completing challenging assignments. Lunches such as the pizza party, which has been used as an incentive for years, may also play a part in recognizing classes that achieve their goals.
The estimated cost for starting the Talent Development model according to a report published in 2005 by MDRC, a research organization is $255 to $300 per student. Using this cost projection it would cost approximately $350,000 to $411,000 to start the program in Savannah High School which had an enrollment of 1371 students in the 2006 – 2007 academic year.
Stocks in the Future
The third and final program is the Stocks in the Future (SIF) program, implemented in Baltimore middle schools. The program is a joint venture between the large banking industry in Baltimore, the city’s public school system, and Johns Hopkins University. This program is being implemented in fourteen schools in Maryland and the District of Columbia. The program has been put into place in the sixth through eighth grades. Preliminary studies have shown that the program has improved math scores and attendance among students that have participated. The program gives students SIF dollars that the students use to invest in publicly traded companies through the SIF website. The maximum amount of money that a student can earn in one year is eighty dollars.(Table 17 : Stocks in the Future Payout Table) The students earn one dollar a week for perfect attendance, one dollar for perfect attendance over an entire quarter, two dollars for improving reading scores per quarter, two dollars for improving math scores per quarter, three dollars for an A in reading or math per report card, and two dollars for a B in reading or math per report card. The program contains a course that is taught once a week during school hours, this course is taught by teachers that have received training in the SIF program. Unlike the ninth grade academy, which covers an entire class, exposing all students to the program, a school administrator selects the SIF program’s student participants. The administrator uses test scores in math and reading and attendance records as a means selecting students that are performing poorly. A key point of the program is the fact that the students only receive the stock portfolios that they have built up over their academic career when they complete high school and reach the age of eighteen. In essence their school years become their vesting period. In addition, the SIF courses teach middle school students something that few public school students learn; investment fundamentals, economics, and finance. The stocks that the students can invest in are limited to a NASDAQ index fund, Coca-Cola, NetFlix, Pestmart, Sirius, Sony, Time-Warner, and Walt Disney.
Although the program is new, having just started in 2000, research has shown that students enrolled in SIF have made progress in reading, vocabulary, and math. In fact, in 2007 Johns Hopkins tested two groups of students, one group that participated in the SIF program, and another that did not using the Hopkins Standardized Test. Those that were in the SIF program in the sixth grade, or the first year of SIF, scored 18% higher than those that were not in the SIF program. The seventh grade results were better, with those in the SIF program scoring 31% higher than those who were not in the program.
Although the distance of Savannah from any of the major financial centers in the country may pose a challenge when it comes time to set up the SIF program, this distance is the very fact that such a program in Savannah would have the potential to make more of an impact than it would in areas where the core financial framework that SIF focuses on is widespread in the community. According to the SIF program administrators at Johns Hopkins, a typical SIF class in the Baltimore costs $11,200 per year. The cost will certainly be more in Savannah due to its unique location; however, the SIF program is the lowest cost option with the least amount of capital expenditures out of the three programs profiled in this paper.
1. Make Savannah’s schools more challenging. This recommendation may be counter intuitive to those that have no faith in the youth of
today; however, it has been proven over and over again that a large number of people will perform exactly to the standards that have been set for them. We have all heard the term, “Work expands to fill the time available.” In business, this is commonly referred to as Parkinson’s Law. In short if you get what you expect, if you set the target at average performance and indicate that this is what you are willing to accept then it is average performance that you will receive. The Talent Development models discussed above would start a cultural change, letting students know exactly what is expected, a rigorous, constantly monitored, path toward educational success.
2. Hold administrators and educators responsible.
Expect nothing less than the best from our educators, just as we are to expect the most from students. For too long the business of education has hidden behind a labor structure that was better suited to the meat packing plants of Chicago at the turn of the century. Americas’ teaching system mirrors the problems found in the federal civilian workforce, a system where tenure ensures that underperformers are protected, and where the size of your paycheck is not related to your abilities. Administrators must be given the authority to hire and fire teachers without union interference. If this means that the Savannah school system must follow in the footsteps of the DC school system, ending the board of education, placing the schools in the hands of the mayor and district super attendant, and removing all of the underperforming administrators and educators then the existence this alternative needs to be made available for public comment.
3. Recognize the efforts of the current administration and recognize that overnight success often takes years.
Many school boards, Savannah included, have brought in new super attendants in order to turn around failing schools, or in some cases the entire district. The problems discussed in this paper are the result of failed administrations compounded over years, and cannot be undone in one, two, three, or even four years. The models presented in this paper do not deliver the ‘silver bullet’ that will magically end all of the problems facing Savannah’s schools, they are well researched, and validated teaching methods that will yield results over time, as the students who have been exposed to the new practices advance in their educational careers. The administrators, teachers, elected officials, and the public must give the new administration a chance to change the schools at a realistic pace, for it is often the case that new administrators seeking instant results, will go to great lengths to portray an appearance of progress. Savannah does not need a reshuffling of old problems in an effort to change the formulas behind the failing schools, Savannah needs to address this problem head on, and the school board as well as the mayor need to make it clear that the new administration will not be hastily judged.
4. Make school interesting in an order to prevent students from disengaging during the critical middle school years.
The models presented in depth above should be seriously considered, they all address a real problem facing schools today, lack of student interest.
5. Develop decision support systems based on data from the current SCCPSS databases that would allow for the early identification of at risk students.
In the digital world that we live in today, where a letter can be tracked from the sender’s warehouse to our front door, visible through the internet at all times it is criminal that we cannot do the same with our students. We must employ the same technologies that are used in business and healthcare to monitor the status of our students. When we are able to reach this point, we will be able to intervene at the point where the student diverges from the normal path, and not at the point where the student has gone so far off track that turning around seems impossible. We could get to the point where lessons could be targeted to the needs of individual classes based on an analysis of their progress.
6. Present all of the data in an informative way that does not assume that the audience does not understand or want statistical data.
It is encouraging to see the states move toward a standard data-reporting framework, and one of the steps to improving the SCCPSS should be a push to release data to the public in its entirety.
An open letter to the city that shaped my future
Savannah you stand with one foot in the past and one reaching for the future, it is an unprecedented time in the history of this nation, and yet you still find yourself preoccupied with the ghosts of the past. An honest reflection on the problems facing schools in Savannah cannot be made without mentioning race and poverty. Barack Obama might have said it best when he stated that “Segregated schools were, and are, inferior schools; we still haven’t fixed them, fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education, and the inferior education they provided, then and now, helps explain the pervasive achievement gap between today’s black and white students.” It was, however, the republican administration under George Bush that may have done more for equality in education than any other president since president Eisenhower forced the desegregation of Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas when he passed the No Child Left Behind act in January of 2001. No Child Left Behind requires that schools make progress across all demographic groups and report data from school districts by demographic group. In other words, Bush made the schools accountable for their performance, and the data that is reported in this paper is a direct result of the NCLB act regulations. The datasets that were used would not have been available broken down to the level they have been without the reporting requirements imposed by the NCLB act.
However, the State, County, City, and School District do much too little to convey the information to the community realistically, although it is important to hear of the accomplishments that the SCCPSS has made, it is frustrating to see how much the problem facing the city has been covered up in the media and to an extent the school board. How will the city address the problem if no one will raise the issue? Help was in fact solicited from several High School principles and board members in the preparation of this paper and sadly, only one person responded, an administrator from Savannah High. If the administration and chair of the board is unwilling to respond to simple inquiries, even, while the Georgia Department of Education was passing the data found in the report to the author, then it would be a stretch to hope that the same administration would be open to the changes presented in this paper. It now comes down to the community itself to raise their voices and demand that the administration at least listen to those who have made progress in communities with problems that mirror those found in Savannah.
The Georgia Department of Education opens a window on the reasoning that may have impeded progress for so long. Slide 18 from the PowerPoint presentation, “No Child Left Behind, a Roadmap for Improving Student Achievement” answers the question “Are needs improvement schools all failing schools?” with two words,- absolutely not. In explaining why the state offer following three arguments.
1. Many have successfully met the needs of their overall student population, but need to improve with one particular group of students.
2. Average test scores mask disparities between students. We’re shining the light on achievement gaps that exist, ensuring that the needs of all students are met.
3. Some did not make AYP because they did not meet the 95% participation rate— perhaps in a specific student group. Under NCLB, we can no longer test only certain groups of our students. Every child deserves to be assessed on their performance.
We have read the story of the Chicago schoolteachers that were found to have altered data to inflate scores on their students test in order to reap the rewards of a new incentive plan that offered cash incentives for student improvement. We have all read the story about the school administrator in Savannah that was tampering with grades in the school’s computers, and caught only after honest teachers pointed this out to the board. Sadly, the punishment that the SCCPSS gave the administrator was a reassignment to the district headquarters, while in Chicago the teachers were let go. Savannah only you can hold the board accountable, the statement, “we can no longer test only certain groups of our students” should be an indicator of the fact that there is a culture of data manipulation that will need to be broken before progress will be made. Certainly, there will be more challenges ahead as data becomes more and more accessible due to expanding federal regulations. The response from school districts will be to cover up shortcomings and explain away failures, and it will be your responsibility to hold them up to a higher standard.
Real change can only come by embracing a complete transformation of the Savannah’s middle and high schools. Such a change is possible as outlined in the sections above on Talent Development Middle Grades and Talent Development High Schools.
This problem has been going on for more than thirty years, if the board of education continues to do what it has always done, the city will get what it has always gotten, an education system that let down a majority of its students.