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Secretary Duncan has said that we cannot rest until all schools are schools we would be proud to send our own children. Unfortunately, for too many schools across our country, this imperative is not yet a reality.
However, in schools like Lee High School in Houston, TX, things are beginning to change dramatically. As you will see in this video about the improvement story at Lee, too many parents were “scared” to send their children to school. Too many students said things like, “I never thought I would actually go to college.”
Now, as one of over 1400 schools implementing a school turnaround model as part of ED’s revamped School Improvement Grant (SIG) program, Lee has used almost $6 million over the past three years to extend learning time for students, build a supportive college-going culture, and continuously improve instruction with a focus on enhanced achievement for all students.
In Houston’s unique Apollo 20 school turnaround model, schools also provide high-intensity, targeted support in key subjects from highly-trained and committed tutors. The same is true of 19 other previously low-performing schools across the city that have partnered with Professor Roland Fryer and a team of researchers from Harvard University to implement and rigorously evaluate a series of specific turnaround interventions.
As I walked through the halls of Lee High with the Secretary during a visit this past February, it was hard to believe that only three years ago, students and parents had voiced serious concerns about the school’s safety and low expectations. In the same classrooms where fights had once been regular occurrences, teachers and staff were collaborating to help students improve academically, and students were committed to reaching their dreams of college and beyond.
The results at Lee are beginning to speak for themselves: daily attendance has reached the school’s goal of 95% on average and the dropout rate has fallen by more than half (from 14% to 6%).
What is promising is that Lee is not alone. Across the country, many SIG recipients are beginning to see encouraging progress and we are beginning to notice some common threads among schools that are turning around:
- A strong, dynamic principal with a clearly articulated vision for a school that is designed for success;
- A talented staff who shares the vision and has a commitment to collaborate on the critical and complex work associated with improving instruction for all students;
- Ongoing use of reliable data to make informed decisions about instructional improvement and student support;
- Community and family engagement strategies that treat these important stakeholders as accelerators of achievement rather than as barriers.
In order to sustain these positive changes, schools and districts are partnering with local community organizations, non-profits, and businesses to continue the momentum and critical resources necessary for sustained improvement. In Houston, for example, local philanthropic leaders have provided $17 million to support the Apollo 20 school turnaround efforts.
Because of the incredibly inspiring work of leaders, teachers, parents, and students at schools like Lee High, more parents like Jessica Broadnax can say, “A child just definitely cannot fail in this place, they just can’t!” What we offer to our children tells them what it is we value. When we provide support for students and we offer them hope for a brighter future, we tell them that we value them and the opportunities that lie ahead.
Deb Delisle is the assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education at the U.S. Department of Education.