Monday, August 3, 2009

More on the Las Vegas turnaround

Edweek's Catherine Gewertz is one of the few education writers/bloggers in the country, really focused in on high schools and one who takes high school transformation seriously. However, she and I each looked at this Nevada high school turnaround story through different lenses.

I liked the Valley High story because it showed a large, traditional high school making big improvements without draconian measures like privatization, school closing, or wholesale teacher firings, being forced on them--NCLB-style. In other words, it was being done with teachers, not to them. The educators at Valley relied on things like artful leadership, personalized teaching (smaller learning communities), after-school tutoring, and a strong focus on literacy.

Catherine also salutes the school for making big gains in reading and math, but thinks the state is being too soft with its accountability standards by awarding a school that graduates only about half its kids.
But I'm still stuck on the part of the story that has to do with a state accountability system honoring a school that graduates only 55 percent of its students. That troubles me. It's not new news, of course. Many a wonk has pointed out that No Child Left Behind permits states to low-ball their academic goals. So while the test-score gains at Valley are impressive, and obviously signify a lot of hard work and staff devotion to the students, the fact that the school is being honored while losing nearly half its kids is still troubling to me.
What do you think? You can jump in here or over at Catherine's High School Connections blog.


  1. The school has apparently increased its graduation rates substantially in the past 2-3 years--That, too, is apparently nothing to sneeze at, especially if the trend continues.

    I'm not aware of research suggesting schools need to be closed to turn around. I've seen successful turnaround stories that begin with reconstitution and many others that succeed with most of the existing staff.

  2. Actually, Mike and Catherine, Valley High hardly received any accolades at all. One mention in the local press. Check it out.

    The economy, especially Clark County housing foreclosures (among the highest in the nation)probably has a much bigger impact on test scores and drop-out rates than anything done within the school itself.

    Teachers deserve credit for doing what they can.

  3. I wish credit recovery did not seem to play a big role--it's hard to get excited about that kind of learning. At the same time, I get it that kids need options & supports.


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