The Upside and Downside of Urban School Reform | Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice.

Another great post from Larry Cuban, education professor and reform commentator.  Here he discusses the history of reform in urban education settings.  Particularly important to me was this point made by Mr. Cuban:

No one yet has demonstrated how to improve achievement for the lowest quartile of students. When I say the “lowest quartile” I mean those students, often minority and poor, who year-after-year receive grades of “D” or “F” in their subjects and perform below proficiency levels on tests. Many of these students are neither troublesome nor delinquent but they are years behind in grade. They struggle with basic reading and math. They need early identification, even before they arrive in kindergarten, and far more instructional and personal intervention than offered by mainstream reform strategies. They need the benefits derived from close cooperation with other social and community institutions that bring essential city and state services to children.

NAEP Results: A shrinking of the achievement gap

Working as an administrator in an early college high school, with a particular focus on helping students who would be the first in their family to go to college get a head start, this issue is of particular importance to me.  We have found that there is a strong contingency of students coming in testing below grade-level in reading and math (often more than 1-year behind).  These students tend to come from poverty-stricken neighborhoods where violence is a daily occurrence.  They rarely spend time on their homework outside of school and they often come to school hungry.  Our hearts break for these kids each and everyday.

This year I was very pleased to see our 9th and 10th grade students make significant gains in their reading, grammar, and writing skills.  We saw our 9th grade class go from a 7th – 8th grade reading level to on par to their 9th grade peers nationally.  Gains of 1 academic year are not unheard of, but still this is great and I hope that we can continue it.  This isn’t yet enough.  What is lost in our current view of the data is what happens to the kids that still aren’t performing well after many years of under performance.   I am eager to continue to look at the data and pull out the numbers in order to accurately identify the students who are in need of more services.  There is so much more work that needs to be done for each and every one of our students, of course, but particularly those that are so far behind their peers.  College is a reality with a sustained, laser-like focus.  -Ed