Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Prison Students Illustrate the Shortcomings of Public Schools

Now back to more heroes: DFER board member Andy Rotherham (who rivals Jay Mathews as the best education writer in America) with a wonderful article about the work Cami Anderson is doing to fix NYC's notorious District 79:

Too often, however, alternative schools are educational backwaters. Students in these settings have more intense needs but frequently want for the cornerstones of quality education: High expectations, great teachers and curriculum, and adequate resources. Their needs are not debated alongside No Child Left Behind, vouchers, or other hot-button education issues. To the extent these students are discussed the conversation often turns on diminished expectations or futility.

Cami Anderson fights this every day. Anderson runs District 79, the array of alternative schools run by the New York City Department of Education, including Rikers Island. She's as relentless a proponent of accountability and quality for underserved students as any educator in the country. Stories of battles she's waged on their behalf are legendary in education school reform circles.

Anderson sees a dual problem in alternative education. "There is a lot of low-hanging fruit, obvious stuff we don't do," she says, "but then there are really difficult problems, too," for instance "ensuring that our students, most of whom have met with major setbacks, succeed academically."

The best teachers at Rikers are quick to say that only highly effective educators can achieve results in the challenging environment there. That's true for alternative education overall. Unfortunately, alternative schools regularly become a dumping ground for people of all ages who are bad fits for traditional schools. Anderson and her deputy Tim Lisante have aggressively worked to remove low-performing teachers and administrators while empowering talented educators beaten down by years of dysfunction.

That work highlights the amount of time Anderson spends on basic issues. When she became superintendent for District 79 in 2006, officials could not even tell her how many students were in the city's alternative program, how long they stayed there, how many earned degrees or had other outcomes, or how long students stayed incarcerated on Rikers. It was a system where too many youngsters became hopelessly lost.


Prison Students Illustrate the Shortcomings of Public Schools

Lawmakers must enhance education for all, even those behind bars

By Andrew J. Rotherham

Posted December 22, 2009


Andrew J. Rotherham is Co-Founder and Publisher of Education Sector and writes the blog Eduwonk.com.

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