Schools Monday: Cardozo's Lost Kids
For decades, the D.C. school system has sought to wall itself off against criticism by claiming that it simply doesn't keep the records that are a commonplace in almost any other system in the land. So if you want to know what really happens to kids who enter the District's high schools, well, sorry, buddy, but we don't keep those records. If you want to figure out what the real graduation rate is, or determine what happens to a particular class's reading and math scores over a period of years, or see if it really is true that the boys in the high schools tend to vanish long before they complete four years, the answer is always conveniently "Sorry, but we don't have the slightest idea."
So the latest installment in The Post's series on Fixing D.C.'s Schools is a welcome injection of data, a result of many months of old-fashioned shoe leather reporting by Dion Haynes and Aruna Jain, who managed to locate and interview 127 of the 243 students who entered Cardozo High's Class of 2005 back in 2001. That may not sound like much of an achievement, but in a system in which students drift from one school to another like autumn leaves floating on a cool breeze, in a city in which students legendarily vanish without a trace, this is something to admire.
And the results of those interviews present a picture of the devastation wrought by the District system that is, if anything, a bit generous. Cardozo was chosen as the focus of this story because its test scores fall more or less in the middle of the pack among D.C. high schools. But the school's population is unlike that of any other city high school, with vastly more Hispanics and a lower percentage of black students than other schools. That makes for a different kind of ethnic tension and pattern of confrontations than are found in other schools--and Cardozo's kids talk about this quite frankly in the compelling video pieces that accompany the story.
My Sunday column looked at the students who emerge from the low expectations and lax standards of the D.C. system and try to make a go of college at the city's public university. Students at UDC have a rough time adjusting even to the forgiving standards of a college that devotes much of its resources to remedial education. The ultimate tragedy is that when the college's professor intervene and invite some of those students to an intensive summer program that starts with the most elementary level of math, the students respond as if they were sponges that had never before come close to liquid nourishment--they blossom, almost instantly. The UDC summer program is a great success, so why is it also a tragedy? Because it reveals once more just how egregiously the D.C. schools' lack of ambition has failed these kids.
Two years after their original class was to have been graduated from Cardozo, only a little more than three in ten are still in any kind of educational setting, and only a portion of those are in college.
There's more than a little griping among the students interviewed by The Post--about the pathetic facilities they suffered through at Cardozo, about teachers who didn't care and didn't push their students, about the woefully low esteem in which students were held by the adults at the school, even as the system force-fed them a bunch of hopped-up nonsense about what wonderful kids they are ("I believe in me!" and other such chanted bromides left over from the 1980s.)
It would be lovely to be able to say that this is all changing under the new administration, but as yet, there's little evidence that the reforms being pushed by the new mayor and chancellor have had a chance to seep into the classrooms. It's enough in these early weeks that the physical plants of many schools are finally being fixed up. But there is never any excuse to let another year of non- and mis-education flow by.
The big questions for me coming out of the Cardozo story were:
--Do the low expectations in the classrooms stem more from the system's lax standards and willingness to accept mediocrity, or has the system adapted to the refusal of so many teachers to insist that kids do the hard work of learning?
-- Does the appalling physical condition of the schools really have much of an impact on the ability of students to learn? And if so, will we therefore see an immediate boost in student performance this year, as the repairs that are so welcome at many D.C. schools spread all around the system?
-- Does the new chancellor have a strategy for dealing with a quarter-century-old problem in the D.C. schools, the pervasive peer pressure not to achieve? Students in this weekend's story and in many previous reports often speak of the ragging and ostracism that face kids who seek to work hard.
Please come ahead with your own questions, answers or conclusions drawn from the Cardozo stories.
PS--That's a really good conversation that's developing on the comments board. Here's some additional fodder for discussion, courtesy of Erich Martel, a teacher at Wilson High School in Northwest who is a longtime and close analyst of D.C. school test scores.
Martel looked back at the test scores of the Class of 2005 at Cardozo and found that not a single member of that class scored in the Advanced category in either reading or math in the District's standardized test program from 2002 to 2005. Indeed, in keeping with a massively disturbing trend seen in many D.C. schools, the longer kids stayed in school, the worse they performed, as the number of students landing in the bottom Below Basic pool of test scores actually increased from the kids' freshman to sophomore years.
The scores at Cardozo suggest, Martel says, "that many students were given passing grades in advanced subjects despite failure to meet minimum requirements. Thus, it should surprise no one that students who received passing or even high grades in English and Math subjects were required to take remedial (non-credit) courses in these areas when they arrived in college.
Here are those scores--the performance categories are Advanced, Proficient, Basic and Below Basic. Only students scoring Advanced or Proficient can be considered to be performing at grade level.
Tested Adv Pr Bas BB
Gr 9: Spring 2002 135 0 2 53 80
Gr 10: Spring 2003 183 0 6 45 132
Gr 11: Spring 2004 149 0 4 31 114
Tested Adv Prof Bas BB
Gr 9: Spring 2002 135 0 2 34 99
Gr 10: Spring 2003 183 0 1 17 161
Gr 11: Spring 2004 149 0 3 11 133
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