Friday, July 01, 2011

Educating Beyond Poverty

Here's Tim King, President and CEO of Urban Prep Academies, rebutting both Ravitch's general claims that poverty is all the matters and no school can possibly make a difference with disadvantaged kids, and her specific wrong statistics about Urban Prep (it's really quite stunning how sloppy her "research" is – she cities statistics in a NYT op ed that she gathered from a BLOGGER, without verifying them!) (my emphasis added below):

The Black male high school drop-out rate in Chicago Public Schools (CPS) is almost 60 percent -- nearly double the attrition rate at Urban Prep. We credit our ability to keep significantly more students than other schools to our engaging and unique positive school culture.

Ravitch cites a blogger's reporting that "only 17 percent passed state tests, compared to 64 percent in the low-performing Chicago public school district." Neither Ravitch nor the blogger she credits managed to get their facts straight; the district average on the 11th grade state test for the percent of students meeting/exceeding state standards is 29 percent, not 64 percent. And again, when one compares our students to their peers, our students do better--especially when you consider growth. On the English section of the state test, for example, 24.6 percent of our students are meeting or exceeding the state standards (90 percent of this class was reading below grade level when they started at Urban Prep), whereas for Black boys, the city-wide rate is just 16.3 percent and only 3.4 percent in our neighboring traditional public school.

To be sure, the test scores of our students still have plenty of room for improvement. But Ravitch implies that low test scores mean that our perfect college acceptance record doesn't matter. Our graduates, she and others suggest, won't succeed in college and so our school is not really making a big difference. Yet the fact is that our graduates are already succeeding in four-year colleges: roughly 80 percent of Urban Prep's 2010 graduates who went to college completed their first year. That is an impressive accomplishment, given that it's the same first-year retention rate as national averages reported by the College Board for students of all races, genders, income levels and high school types (i.e., public and private).

Our graduates' rate of college attendance makes a difference in their own lives and in the vitality of their communities. By conservative estimates, our first graduating class alone is projected to increase the total number of African-American male 9th graders in CPS who earn a college degree by as much as 12 percent. If subsequent graduating classes at our three schools have the same success with college admission and matriculation as our first class, Urban Prep could increase the number of Black boys starting as CPS freshmen who will earn a college degree by as much as 40 percent.

Even with these levels of achievement, we still work hard at getting better. And we welcome advice, counsel and constructive criticism from others interested in improving educational outcomes for our students. But there is a big difference between examining data to identify where schools should improve and misusing numbers in an effort to discredit real achievement or promote a political agenda.

At the heart of Ravitch's claim is a belief in the limitations of what good schools can accomplish with disadvantaged students; she no longer seems to believe in the transformative power of education. Ravitch argues that the efforts of the students, staff, and faculty at Urban Prep and other schools are largely fruitless until society eliminates the family and financial hardships of our students. While I agree that those issues matter, my years as an educator have taught me that the economic conditions of children and families should not be used as an excuse for failure. Poverty is not destiny. That's a lesson every school should teach, every educator should believe, and every student has a right to learn.


Tim King

Educating Beyond Poverty

Posted: 06/15/11 12:33 PM ET

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