Looking At HST From The Outside: A One-Legged Stool?

Oklahoma City high school

teacher John Thompson writes in with some of his thoughts on education reform

in Chicago:

The only things I know about Chicago high schools comes from

reading on the Web, but I read from the perspective of an inner-city high

school teacher who has witnessed first-hand the results of investing only in

the one-legged stool of instruction-driven reforms.

One-legged stools are what came to mind when I read Sarah

Karp's recent package of stories in

Catalyst. The main story concentrated on Marshall, a school with an average ACT

score of 13.7, with 25% of its students on IEPs, and where the average student

misses fifty days per year due to absences and suspensions. (For the record, my school's statistics are fairly similar.)

The reform effort being described focuses almost solely on instruction. As with my school, "the main mechanism for these

changes is what education wonks call instructional strategy." Chicago adopted that

strategy after a national study that found high school students drop out by and

large because they are bored. This "silent epidemic" could be

reversed, officials reasoned, if high school courses were more engaging.

Students would show up, pay attention in class, learn something and maybe even

go on to college."

There is nothing wrong with adapting "best

practices" from schools that are already effective, but why assume that

those strategies can be the driving force in turning around struggling schools?

At Marshall,

wrote Karp, "on every level--from administrators to teachers to

students--there is doubt that changing the curriculum and teaching will spark a

dramatic improvement in attendance and behavior."

The reasons for skepticism should be obvious. "Some

students have heartbreaking circumstances that make it difficult for them to

attend school regularly," wrote Karp. "Schools like Marshall continue to have problems attracting

and keeping good teachers, as well as keeping them motivated" she observed

and "finally, school safety and conflict resolution are not addressed at


These expensive new efforts simply create the capacity that should have always

been the norm. The opportunity to cut into goat brains or surf the Net will

yield few results until a learning culture is established.

Thompson is a frequent contributor to This Week In Education.

Filed under: 125 S. Clark Street

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