Tuesday, April 01, 2008

I'm no fan of vouchers, but......

Last weekend, I went to Education Wonks and found he had done a post on an incredibly depressing column by Colbert King about a public school in Washington, D.C..

"Security at Wilson High to Be Tightened" announced a headline in The Post's March 21 Metro section. More stringent measures were being put in place after 13 students were arrested because of two fights that week, the story said.

I first visited Woodrow Wilson High School 52 years ago as a 155-pound guard on Dunbar High School's football team. We played the Wilson Tigers to a 13-13 tie. Back then, student clashes were largely governed by rules and referees and limited to the athletic field.

Today, they play war in the cafeteria.

To reduce the violence, D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee wrote in a letter to parents that when Wilson students return from spring break on Monday, they will stay in their classrooms for lunch. Rhee told me in an interview Wednesday that the "classroom lunch" will last for two days "while the school finalizes plans for a new lunch structure."

How did the District's once premier high school end up like this? It didn't happen overnight. And Wilson's sad state shouldn't surprise the city's powers.

On March 1, Mai Abdul Rahman, the mother of a Wilson student, sent Rhee an e-mail laying bare the problem...

Rahman described an assault on her son that occurred Feb. 26 in Wilson's gym during lunch recess:

He "walked unaccompanied into the gym [and] found himself surrounded by five 9th grade students. . . . For several minutes they proceeded to punch him in the face until two 12th graders broke it up."

"On the same day," Rahman wrote, "a 9th grade student was also 'jumped,' a term used to describe the violent assault action of one group that belong to a gang as they hit and maim their lonely victim. All these violent crimes occurred a day after Wilson security had discovered a gun that was found through the metal detector scanner in a student's bag."

Of her son, Rahman wrote: "The doctor says he was lucky to escape a skull fracture or loss of vision or hearing...

The e-mail continued: "This school year, Wilson has had a rash of violent student assaults and countless number of robberies. I am sure you are aware that our students are often victims of the same crime two or three times. . . . So far in the last three weeks both the Hawk security guards and D.C. police have confirmed to me that they have made 4 arrests of students in the school facilities for a combination of assaults and other criminal activities."

Rahman said that she was concerned that some Wilson students have been subjected to "terror and violence," that teachers and staff weren't present to protect students, that security guards are few and poorly trained, and that security cameras are poorly placed and vandalized.

She pointed to teenagers who roam hallways and the gym, looking for others to prey upon. "Most lack the proper tools to maintain class interest and focus, so they are rarely in class to the delight of most teachers who are tired of the discipline issues."

Things are so out of hand, Rahman wrote in a follow-up e-mail, "that assailants at Wilson often capture their attacks by video and circulate them with little fear of being caught and these videos that offensively chronicle their attacks are being used" to intimidate "all those who dare challenge their assailants."

Teachers need the power to remove unruly kids from their classes, and principals need more power to expel them. Quite frankly, some kids just don't belong in school. This is an extreme example of what happens when we feel like we have to save every one of them. It doesn't work, and it can lead to the point where no one can get an education.

I have never been a fan of vouchers, and I wouldn't want to see them used in any district that has schools that have the potential to be a good ones, but how can anyone argue against them in this situation. Does anyone actually believe that a "new program" or more money could possibly turn a school like this around?

Our priority must be to see to it that every kid who wants an education can get one. My first choice would be to see every violent and disruptive kid thrown out of this school, and I don't care how many that is. But assuming that isn't going to happen, in a situation like this, I would be happy to see my taxes spent to send kids who want an education to private schools. Something has to be done to separate those kids from the thugs who are, in effect, running this school.


Blogger Mrs. C said...

Yet another argument for homeschooling. What kind of AWFUL parents are these to let their children be victimized multiple times? By gangs of kids??

Vouchers aside, the voters need to hold the administration accountable. How can they do that? How can they make every head in that school roll?

As far as I know there is no way to do that.

4/01/2008 4:27 PM  
Blogger Hall_Monitor said...

After reading about the 11-year old girl who punched a cop in school last week, and the 6 year old who brought two loaded guns this week, I'm not sure what hope is left in some students. Check out these stories and all the crazy news in public education at http://detentionslip.org.

4/01/2008 4:36 PM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Mrs. C., it's an argument for homeschooling in Washington, D.C.. And I am not about to jump on the administration. Quite frankly, with the cast of characters it sounds like they have in that school, I don't think it matters who the administration is.

4/01/2008 6:18 PM  
Blogger Corygon Trail said...

I live just outside of Washington DC, and the shape of the community and thus the schools is very sad. And as much of a supporter of public education as I am, vouchers are something that are becoming increasingly viable for me for certain situations.

As for the homeschooling: that's kind of a case by case basis. As a teacher in the metro area of the city, I know how many parents either a) work all the time just to pay the bills, b) don't have any education beyond high school (and may not have graduated), making it hard to imagine teaching high school level courses 3) live in housing situations where there are multiple family members and kids, making a homeschool environment pretty ineffective.

It's situations like that that makes it so infuriating to teachers when they're blamed for not being able to make substantial differences in kids lives. I teach seniors, and right now, I have girl who is homeless and staying in a motel; I have another one who was jumped over spring break and has a broken collarbone over an incident while clubbing; one student expelled for selling drugs; two of my students are pregnant. You (not directed at anyone in particular) think that persuasive writing is on their minds? I've seen improvement in most of my students--the 90-95% who try (including some of the ones I just mentioned). My seniors aren't tested by the gov't, and they're nowhere near ready to really be competitive if they're doing post-high school work. But the reason they've done well is that a lot of the distractions from the beginning of the year (the drug kid, the fighters) are gone.

Sorry for the ramble; I just wanted to point out that there are some good things within the bad, especially when some causes of the bad are eliminated.

4/01/2008 7:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I have never been a fan of vouchers, and I wouldn't want to see them used in any district that has schools that have the potential to be a good ones, but how can anyone argue against them in this situation."

Hi Dennis :-),

Like this?


-Mark Roulo

4/01/2008 7:27 PM  
Blogger Mrs. C said...

Washington,DC! Are you guys not aware of the homeschooling situation in Washington, DC? Because of the Benita Jacks case, homeschoolers are under tighter scrutiny. It is NOT fair, considering what goes on in p.s.

Yes, there are parents who are abusive who will use homeschool law as a shield. But do you know what? More common is the parent who uses compulsory education law as a free babysitter. Just saying.

Corygon, I've got to hand it to you. It has to be way easier being a homeschool mom than to teach kids knowing what kind of hell they go "home" to.

But I know a parent somewhat like you described who homeschools. She is a single mom, no HS degree and works cleaning houses. She leaves her girls home alone during the day (ages 13 and 15) and comes home at night to review lessons. They are taking high-school level courses. Have you looked at some of the high school curriculum available to parents? With a reasonably self-directed student, there is no reason he/she can't have a good education. Virtual school is also an option for people who want the "accountability" to the state. (OK, that idea makes me want to hide under a rock, though!)

But where is the accountability for these schools? It's just NOT ok that this happens on a regular basis. If I were a local taxpayer, I would be livid.

Dennis, you brought up an interesting point on your Gatto post. What *should* a teacher do if he finds himself working for a bad system? It's fortunate for you that you seem to enjoy your job and the students you teach for the most part.

Can I ask you something? According to Wikipedia, your town is 100% black. I'm surprised at this b/c I thought Minnesota to be a more "white" state. And my understanding from news stories, etc. is that all-black or nearly all-black schools tend NOT to be the ones that excel. How do you do it???

4/02/2008 2:57 AM  
Blogger Dennis Fermoyle said...

Corygon, you sound like a better man than I. Don't get cocky, though, because that's a pretty big club.

Mark, I tried the website you gave and got an error message. Since I assume it was promoting vouchers, you'll have to forgive me if I didn't try to hard to keep finding it.

Mrs. C., we have one black kid in our school (I had him on my JV hockey team, and he's quite good), and we have a significant Lao population, and a fairly high percentage of kids who are mixed European and American Indian ancestry. Most of the kids are Caucasian, though. Maybe the confusion comes from our school colors--black and gold.

You probably know this already, but since I am opposed to public education being compulsory, I have no problem with anyone homeschooling their kids who wants to. When it comes to the idea of loosening up on homeschooling restrictions, I'm with you.

4/02/2008 3:42 AM  
Anonymous a homeschool mom said...

This post breaks my heart. Schools should be safe. Period. Obviously, these are not. The kids causing the problems need to go. You hit the nail on the head when you said, "This is an extreme example of what happens when we feel like we have to save every one".

What did happen to discipline in school? I am asking this seriously. I know that many teachers have their hands tied when it comes to discipline and their options are limited. What are the options?

Why is it so hard to get kids expelled from school? I understand that for some kids school can save them. What if they don't want to be saved?

I doubt there are any easy answers for a situation such as this. I have a feeling that it goes much deeper than how they feel about education.

4/02/2008 8:14 AM  
Blogger Corygon Trail said...

Mrs. C, I definitely agree with you: if the kids are motivated, some simple guidance will do them well and if there is a discipline for self-education, well, more power to anyone who wants to homeschool their kids. And I didn't mean to imply that only college-graduates can teach, or that you have to be a stay-at-home figure; I just want to be sure that people aren't recommended to be homeschooled if the parents don't make that the main priority. What's funny about all this is that I'm not married nor do I have kids (I'm just 26), even with my public school background and defense of public schools, I'll probably give serious thought to homeschooling my own kids some day if that's an option.

And Dennis: I am by no means a great man. There are countless more passionate and more caring teachers in my building alone--they're the ones who work with 9th graders and special needs kids and all the high-stakes testing areas. I only used it as an example to reinforce that it really is the few that get in the way of the education of many.

4/02/2008 8:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Mark, I tried the website you gave and got an error message. Since I assume it was promoting vouchers, you'll have to forgive me if I didn't try to hard to keep finding it."

Actually, the site is pretty staunchly *opposed* to vouchers. They didn't duck the hard cases, and are also opposed to vouchers in Washington D.C. Hey, you asked how anyone could argue against them in this case! Opposing them in Washington D.C. generally was the closest I could find :-)

The short version is that they pretty much ignore the safety issue. I don't know if the pro-voucher crowd pushes safety or not, but it appears that the answer to your question is that one *can* oppose vouchers in this case by ignoring the safety aspect.

I don't know if ignoring the safety issue is a case of:
(1) Not recognizing it,
(2) Not caring about it, or
(3) Believing that the schools should be made safe instead of allowing the victims to flee.


-Mark Roulo

4/02/2008 10:30 AM  
Blogger EHT said...

Since Georgia was in the news yesterday due to a group of 3rd graders plotting against their teacher I'm sure you can understand why I'm all for parents having choices regarding where they place their children. While I don't like my tax dollars going to fund public schools and provide funds for some kids to go to public schools as well, I don't think kids should be in unsafe locations either.

What I do wish is that we would develop stronger backbones in order to provide the correct learning environment for all public schools students. Until public education does this we will keep seeing the problems and it will get worse.

4/02/2008 11:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wilson isn't even the most violent
DC high school by a long shot.
Check out a break down of crime stats for the district:

4/07/2008 12:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From looking at the Wilson HS website I'd say that this is a school with a substantial number of students who have applied from outside the school's boundaries. The immediate area is a fairly nice. The website mentions that students who arrive well-prepared by their middle schools do very well. I wonder if some of these out of boundary applicants cause the trouble. (Presumably not as well prepared in MS) The "restructuring plan" acknowledges that safety is not where it should be. Theoretically those out of boundary students can be expelled for not following rules more easily than in-boundary students.

4/08/2008 10:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ahh, I read more carefully and see that ninth graders have just been added to the high school including some very old (18)ninth graders and some very troubled ones. They seem to have come from different areas and don't get along. Yet I still can't see how administrators can put up with the situation. From what I hear almost anything goes. Students answer cell phones during class--a total lack of repect even when nothing violent is happening. And this is one of the better DC high schools.

4/13/2008 7:18 PM  

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