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Posted at 3:10 AM ET, 06/ 6/2010

A school that did the right thing

By Valerie Strauss

My guest is George Wood, principal of Federal Hocking High School in Stewart, Ohio, and executive director of the non-profit Forum for Education and Democracy, a collaboration of educators from around the country.

By George Wood
The Sunday before Memorial Day was Wayne’s day.

It was the day he graduated from our school. A day he did not think would come. But a day he made happen—and we helped.

Wayne came to me last summer and asked if he could, please, attend school. Eighteen, having been pushed out of his school in northern Ohio, he had moved in with a girlfriend in the area.

Wearing his best tee shirt, with his smudged glasses set askew on his face, he earnestly asked me to take him in, knowing that because of his age we were not obligated to enroll him/

For the school it was a risk. He had not passed all the of Ohio state tests, he needed every single credit he could get, and we did not know him.

The reason it was risky was that if we took in this young man and he did not graduate it would count against us on our school report card. He could lower our graduation rate (we have fewer than 100 seniors so every one moves our graduation rate by more than one percentage point) that is part of the state’s accountability calculation. We would put our ranking and our reputation on the line by taking him.

But how could we turn him down? Isn’t this what schools are supposed to do—take in kids, care for them, teach them, try to make sure they graduate?

So we took him. The guidance counselor and I got to know him and then secured him a place in our career center. He did what it took to be successful and passed all of his courses and tests. He graduated last Sunday.

What worries me when I see Wayne is how many other kids do not find a school that will open their doors. Schools that know that the right thing to do would be to give him -- and other kids like him --a chance, but feel they cannot do it because the risk is too great.

This one case illustrates clearly what is wrong with the current ‘hold schools accountable’ mantra. It holds them responsible for the wrong things.

Had we turned Wayne away, no one would have known, we would not have lost points on our state report card, and it would not have effected our federal accountability measures either. We took him, and it could have hurt us on all of these measures.

The system is simply wrong. It incentivizes the wrong things—and punishes schools for doing the right things. It is time to change it, but it seems that our leaders at both the state and national level have absolutely no clue.

But I am not worrying about that as I write this. Because Wayne graduated, in clothes that our bus supervisor and his partner bought for him after graduation practice and in a gown that my secretary secretly paid for.

It was Wayne’s day—and a good day for our school as well.


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By Valerie Strauss  | June 6, 2010; 3:10 AM ET
Categories:  George Wood, Guest Bloggers  | Tags:  george wood, school accountability  
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Next: Principal: Why Helen Thomas was dropped as school speaker


Great job, George Wood and staff! You did the right thing, and who knows, this kid may make a positive difference someday. I agree with you that the whole dilemma about taking in at-risk kids can be a risk for the schools if they are held "accountable" in the way it has been done since NCLB. Why take chances?

Posted by: celestun100 | June 6, 2010 3:53 PM | Report abuse

"The system is simply wrong. It incentivizes the wrong things—and punishes schools for doing the right things. It is time to change it, but it seems that our leaders at both the state and national level have absolutely no clue."

Mr. Wood is absolutely correct. The system is designed to make public schools look as bad as possible by counting students who earn IEP diplomas as droupouts, by counting students who earn GED diplomas as dropouts and by only counting students who finish in four years. The reporting rules are stacked to make all public schools appear to be in crisis. Liberals use the phony data to plead for more bucks and Conservatives use the crisis to justify funneling money toward privatized, anti-union, charter or private schools.

I notice that the normal cast of teacher bashers are rendered silent by any evidence that contradicts the "educators are overpaid, underworked societal leeches who hide behind tenure" meme.

Congratulations for doing the right thing. I just wonder whether we would we be reading this article if Wayne didn't graduate?

Posted by: buckbuck11 | June 6, 2010 6:10 PM | Report abuse

If Wayne didn't graduate you would be reading an article about a "failing" school in Ohio.

Posted by: celestun100 | June 6, 2010 6:33 PM | Report abuse

This reminds me of a phenomenon that starting occurring at my school in the years after the implementation of No Child Left Behind.

One or two of the second grade teachers began "wooing" the parents of my brightest students. At first I didn't understand what was going on but then I realized these teachers were making friends with the parents of my highest test-takers so the parents would request them as second grade teachers!

Fortunately most educators are honorable people; otherwise we'd be seeing a lot more obvious "cherry picking." NCLB is surely a law with terrible unintended consequences.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | June 6, 2010 7:45 PM | Report abuse

I think he's already made a difference, huh? :-)
I hope we can all learn from him in the name of perseverence and work hard at fighting a "reform" movement as
Dr. Wood says, "The system is simply wrong. It incentivizes the wrong things—and punishes schools for doing the right things. It is time to change it, but it seems that our leaders at both the state and national level have absolutely no clue."
Thank you Dr. Wood, for continuing to inspire me. I expect I'll hang this blog up by my desk at school. And continue to let my representatives know that they have to change their thinking!!

Posted by: tutucker | June 7, 2010 11:00 AM | Report abuse

It is depressing that an article like this that points out a major truth and a basic flaw in current reform thinking only gets a few posts and most of them by me! Where are all the people that were so happy to fire those Rhode Island teachers now? Why don't they read this article?

Posted by: celestun100 | June 7, 2010 1:24 PM | Report abuse

Wow, that's an amazing story. Wood, not only demonstrated leadership but much humanity! And the fact that Wayne wanted to enroll says a lot about him as well...

Number counts and number doesn't count. A degree of flexibility would always help.

Posted by: knowledgenotebook | June 8, 2010 5:22 PM | Report abuse

Great article! Now let's hope Obama and Duncan read it.

Posted by: jlp19 | June 9, 2010 1:08 PM | Report abuse

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