Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Mission High School is not failing

Mission High School

Diane Ravitch is a ferocious critic of US education policy (see her blog). But in the March 24 issue of the New York Review of Books (Solving the Mystery of the Schools) she had some good words for our Mission High School:

...Kristina Rizga is a journalist who covered education for Mother Jones (and has returned to its staff). After writing about education for several years, she decided to embed herself in a struggling school over a long period of time so that she could understand the issues better. The school that gave her permission to be a “fly on the wall” was Mission High School in San Francisco. It has 950 students with passports from more than forty different countries. Latino, African-American, and Asian-American students make up the majority of the students; 75 percent are poor, and nearly 40 percent are learning English.

Mission is a “failing school” because it has low test scores. When Rizga first entered Mission in 2009, it was one of the lowest-performing schools in the nation, as judged by standardized test scores. And yet, contrary to the test scores, 84 percent of its graduates were accepted to college, and other indicators were positive.

One of the six students Rizga followed closely, an immigrant from El Salvador named Maria, asked her, “How can my school be flunking when I’m succeeding?” Maria arrived at Mission High School knowing no English. After only one year in the US, she had to take the same state tests as other students:

By eleventh grade she was writing long papers on complex topics like the war in Iraq and desegregation. She became addicted to winning debates in class….In March 2012 Maria and her teachers celebrated her receiving acceptance letters to five colleges, including the University of California at Davis, and two prestigious scholarships.

But she received low scores on the standardized tests mandated by law, because of her weak English skills. Rizga saw Maria’s remarkable intellectual, social, and emotional development during her four years as an observer at Mission High. She often failed standardized tests, which seldom reflected her ability or potential. Eventually, as her familiarity with English improved, she scored well enough on the college entrance examinations to gain admission to a good college.

Rizga devotes chapters to the students she gets to know well, who blossom, as Maria did, as a result of their interactions with dedicated Mission teachers. She also devotes chapters to teachers who devote themselves to their students with intense enthusiasm. What the teachers understand that reformers like Booker, Christie, and Anderson do not is that human relationships are the key to reaching students with many economic and social problems...


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