Friday, July 30, 2010

Valerie Strauss: 'The Dumbest Thing' in Education Thinking -- Obama, Education, Snooki, Civil Rights and Bryan Bass

'The Dumbest Thing' in Education Thinking: Obama, Education, Snooki, Civil Rights and Bryan Bass
by Valerie Strauss
Washington Post; Reposted on Common Dreams


In June, 2010, Bryan Bass, the principal of Brooklyn Center High School in suburban Minneapolis, was fired.

Brooklyn Center is one of 34 schools on Minnesota's list of "persistently lowest achieving" schools. The state education commissioner says that the federal School Improvement Grants (SIG) program will give the state the opportunity to "really dig deep and try to solve the educational issues" in their failing schools.

For Brooklyn Center, like all schools targeted under the SIG program, receiving federal funding for reform efforts required firing the current principal.

Brooklyn Center High School enrolls about 800 students, three-quarters of whom are low-income and children of color. Roughly 14% of the students have learning disabilities, and about 20% are English Language Learners. The school offers a strong arts magnet program, and an International Baccalaureate program, making it a popular open-enrollment school. Though 82% of students who enroll, graduate, the school has some of the lowest assessment scores in the state.

Bryan Bass has been principal at Brooklyn Center for four years. Under his leadership, the number of suspensions each month fell from 45 to about 10. The number of graduates who went on to college doubled from 35% to 70%. Student mobility dropped from 33% to 26%.

Bass and Superintendent Keith Lester also worked tirelessly on meeting another need of the school community. One wing of the school was recently turned into a one-stop medical and social service center. The center is equipped to care for any student or school-age resident in the area.

With or without health insurance, students have access to dental, vision, mental health and medical services right in the building. The need for wrap-around supports for students immediately became apparent: In the first year, 70% of students who were tested were found to have untreated vision problems. By building a network of existing providers and agencies, identified needs were met. Children who needed glasses were given them. The clinic offers a therapist to help students work through emotional issues.

A social service agency has an office in the clinic that helps students' families find health insurance.

"Overnight - overnight, it absolutely decreased the amount of behavioral issues," principal Bass told a local reporter about the new school-based center. "By eliminating barriers, you start to really understand what's in the way of students getting to learn."

The future of Brooklyn Center High School's health and social services center is not guaranteed under the federal grant program. One thing was guaranteed, though. The school's energetic principal had to go, as a condition for participation in the SIG program.
Superintendent Lester is frustrated with the rigidity of the federal grants program: "I think that's the dumbest thing I've seen coming out of education in my years in education," he said.

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