The Ledger filled itself with a ton of education news over the weekend–some of it fluff and some of it quite intriguing.
For all the gushing over Bok Middle in The Ledger’s valentine to the Lake Wales Charter System — the students kayak, they use iPads, they hang out in adirondack chairs, meh — the most important bit of reporting was more prosaic and fundamental. Bok has separated boys and girls in academic settings and apparently made big strides in achievement.
Separating the boys and girls began during the 2009-10 school year in reading classes. And, of the 120 students who were placed in single-gender classes, 88 made learning gains, said Gary Loar, Lake Wales Charter System coordinator of accountability. The boys performed slightly better than the girls with 75.9 percent showing gains compared to the girls’ 70.6 percent, he said. In the previous year, 32.8 percent of boys made learning gains compared to 25.5 percent of the girls.
Bok Middle is the only school in Polk County, charter or otherwise, doing this. And assuming no manipulation of testing or enrollment — always a big assumption — the improvement is pretty remarkable. And it happened by completely sidestepping the mind-numbing old “Teachers suck, no, Michelle Rhee sucks,” debate.
Bok made a technocratic decision, trackable with data, that seems to yield results. This seems precisely what charter schools are supposed to do. [Full disclosure: my cousin Robin Gibson is essentially the founder of the Lake Wales Charter District and remains a major force in governing it.]
But the big Ledger profile on Bok is next to useless. It completely lacks data and context and spends a lot of time quoting people affiliated with the school about how great it is. It draws lots of implied contrasts with the district-administered McLaughlin Middle without ever actually getting to the contrasts. It’s a marketing piece and kind of a waste of time. Bok may well serve as model for the future, but allowing its administrators to say so does not make it so.
In the wake of the McKeel kid-dumping scandal, we need a hard-nosed analysis on the transfers at the Lake Wales Charter System and the special and magnet schools throughout the county.
In fairness, the entire premise of the Lake Wales system is different than McKeel, which from the beginning has sought to create a publicly-funded private school that dumps its problem students on the existing traditional schools. By contrast, the Lake Wales district wanted to take all of its schools and create a new system. I still hear some shadowy complaints about transfers, but I’ve seen no indication of systematic dumping as policy.
The Ledger is the only news organization with the capability to confirm this feeling. It really needs to do it. We need a close look at how the special schools perform their mission and to what degree they use traditional schools as safety valves for their problems.
Now that Skip has done the honorable thing and brought his long, distinguished career to a close, such an analysis of our two-tier education system would make for an excellent way for the new editor, who will probably be Lenore Devore, to make a splash in the community.
In the short-term, when The Ledger writes about high school grades, as it did last week, it needs to add a standing caveat to McKeel.
Now it reads:
Only one high school, McKeel Academy of Technology, a charter school, received an A grade.
It should read:
Only one high school, McKeel Academy of Technology, Polk’s only charter school that actively tailors its enrollment based on test performance, received an A grade.
And this year may provide an interesting peek into the relative value of administration and enrollment demographics in school performance, considering that the McKeel high school has now lacked a principal for several months. And just a question: Do you think the principal at any other school could get arrested on stalking charges and not have it make news until a second arrest occurred? I have no idea how that happened, but it’s certainly odd at a time when any old teacher arrest gets immediately splashed.