The latest news here in Savannah is the school board has decided to fire the entire faculty, staff and administration of one of the public high schools because of poor performance, as measured by a sub-60% graduation rate. It will be interesting to see if this actually has any significant effect on the performance of the students in the school. Somehow I suspect it won’t. I’ll go out on the limb and predict that there will be a short-lived jump in measurable benchmarks, but it will not last.
The purge will allow the district to get rid of what weak teachers are there, and, apparently, satisfy some state agencies. Plus, because of this massacre, the school will be the center of attention of the district. But it all can’t last forever. The normal ebb and flow of attrition will return the faculty to the same kind of level as other schools – some good teachers, some bad teachers and many average teachers. And the school will not be able to hold the spotlight forever.
Although the school has been making progress under a relatively new administration in the past few years, it wasn’t enough. This school has been a weak performer for years. Some time ago, the admissions director of a nearby state university told me she wouldn’t even assign a recruiter to that and one other Savannah school because, “…there aren’t enough students who can meet our admission requirements to make it worth the effort.” This raises the question – is the problem the school (teachers and administration) or the students? Principals and teachers come and go. The only constant is the students.
The purge will do nothing to solve,what I suspect, is an underlying problem — the elementary and middle schools. If a student arrives in ninth grade unable to read or do the math to handle the work, there isn’t much the high school can do to remedy nine years of ill preparation both at school and at home. The high school is at the end of the pipeline.
As anyone can guess, this school is in the inner city, with a high minority (98% black) and relatively high poverty area.
Coincidentally, George Will wrote a column this week for the Washington Post in which he puts the blame squarely on the students’ families.
“Plainly put, the best predictor of a school’s performance is family performance — qualities of the families from which the students come. Subsequent research suggests that about 90 percent of the differences among the proficiency of schools can be explained by five factors: days absent from school, hours spent watching television, pages read for homework, the quantity and quality of reading matter in the home — and the presence of two parents in the home.”
Will especially targeted one telling statistic — 71.6% of African-American and 51.3% of Latino children are born to unmarried mothers. If national statistics hold for Beach’s attendance zone (and there is no reason to believe they don’t), that means roughly three quarters of the students come from low-income and single parent families. This is not a formula for success for any new set of administrators and faculty.
Raising children well is tough and it takes time. Most children are not totally self-motivated to work hard, read a lot, do their homework, get out of bed to get to school, and so on. Left alone, children are like all other matter in the universe. The will tend to the lowest level of energy and organization. Children usually require a parents to set and enforce high standards and to create a culture of success.
So school district officials have decided to help those students by firing their teachers and administration, and replace them with supposedly better ones. It’s too bad they can’t do the same for the parents.