Student transiency and school achievement

To anyone who has been involved in public education in an urban setting for the past decade or two, today’s front-page story in the Globe reporting that students who frequently switch schools tend to do poorly in school is not exactly a revelation. I remember sitting in a school site council meeting at the Daley School at least eight years ago and having then Superintendent Karla Brooks Baehr tell us that 25% of the children who begin school in Lowell in September move out of the district by June. I found that number beyond belief, so when I got home I asked my son – then a sixth grader – how many students were in his class. He answered 24. I then asked how many had left since September (our conversation was in May). He rattled off six names – exactly 25% of his class. I became a believer.

Principals and teachers will tell you that if they could separate out the kids that they keep for their school’s full complement of grades (i.e., in a middle school, a student who arrives for fifth grade and stays until the end of eighth grade), those students’ test scores would be pretty good. But because of the constant influx of new students into the school – not from other schools within Lowell, but from other communities and countries – the student body is a moving target which is reflected in the poor scores.

Too often, the harshest critics of the public schools draw upon their own experience when they render their judgments and ignore the reality of today. In my eight years at St Margaret School in the 1960s, I don’t think we had six new students in the entire eight years, never mind in a single year. And all of the students in the class came from households with two parents, usually with one working and the other at home to care for the kids. The families of the student body were not wealthy, but everyone had a quiet place to do homework, a warm place to sleep and plenty of food on the table. But that’s not life today in an urban community. Kids arrive at school with all of society’s problems as baggage, but society expects the schools to overcome all of those problems and educate the kids. There’s certainly room for improvement in the public schools, but until we start addressing the problems that plague the kids outside the classroom, we’re not being serious about improving urban education.

4 Responses to Student transiency and school achievement

  1. PaulM says:

    In the early years of the Lowell revival, the structure of education was very much a priority issue. One way to think about the “urban park” concept that has given Lowell a sustained redevelopment theme is to see it as an alternative school. What Pat Mogan, Peter Stamas, Kay Georgalos, Clementine Alexis, Lillian Lamoureux and many others were after in the late ’60s and early ’70s was school reform by another name. They wanted to transcend the conventional education structure and make the whole city a classroom, thereby enlisting everyone in the educational enterprise. They had a more radical idea that they called the Center for Human Development. The prototype was going to be created in the old Giant Store at 305 Dutton Street. The Center would a multi-service operation that dealt with children in a holistic way—health, nutrition, family counseling, cultural enrichment, science exploration, and the basic skills, of course: reading-writing-arithmetic. The Center concept came with a full-scale plan, copies of which are in the archives of the Human Services Corp. at the UMass Lowell Center for Lowell History. While the Center didn’t materialize as planned, I believe it influenced further thinking about schools in Lowell, with initiatives such as theme magnet schools and so forth. Reading Dick’s post made me recall the progressive thinking of Lowellians more than 30 years ago. They understood the importance of addressing the needs of the whole child who shows up for school.

  2. Lynne says:

    Dick – you mean, like a living wage, free child care for working single parents, that sort of stuff??

    Naw, we’re too busy cutting the budget because by god, we can’t have rich people be taxed more. Rich people are special people.

    This post on dkos basically sums up everything that is wrong with our whole situation today.

  3. Dean says:

    Lowell and the Merrimack Valley was a small Applachia after WW II. There was no new movenment till the 1980’s.When urban flight from the big cities started to happen. In the 50’s, 60’s,70’s. There were maybe 50 new families that moved to Lowell a year, with maybe 50 family moving out. School records and election records in those yeras will attest to that fact.