Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A look back at Denver's Manual High

A man-made disaster for hundreds of Denver's kids

It's been three years since the disastrous Gates Foundation's early venture into small schools at Denver's Manual High ended in defeat. This early turnaround project failed, primarily because of the foundation's top-down approach, ignoring teacher, parent, and community wisdom. As one parent summed it up: "We weren't against small schools. We just wanted it done with us, not to us."

It didn't take long for Bill Gates to throw his hands up and abandon Manual and the small-schools movement altogether, claiming that high school restructuring was "too difficult." The school was closed at the end of the 2006 school year amid militant community protests. 558 students were scattered across the city to new schools, lives disrupted and relationships with teachers destroyed.

According to a recent University of Colorado study:
Nearly a third of those students are now classified by the district as withdrawn. They are either dropouts, have moved to a different state or their whereabouts are unknown. One student has died, and 94 transferred out of Denver Public Schools. Their progress is no longer tracked.
The C.U. study is one of the few projects that watched what happens to kids after a school closes.

Its findings:

• Only 52 percent of the students who were juniors when Manual closed went on to graduate. Manual had previously graduated 68 percent of its seniors.

• Historically, Manual students had a 6 percent chance of dropping out of school. After closure, the chance that a displaced Manual student would drop out soared to 17 percent.

• Colorado Student Assessment Program test scores among displaced Manual students dropped from between 3 and 38 points in reading, writing and math. Historically, Manual students typically gained between 8 and 19 points each year in those subjects.

The Gates Foundation chalked it up to experience and left town. Arne Duncan now says he wants to close 5,000 schools. I'll leave it at that for now.

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