Wednesday, December 18, 2019

A poor fit for South Bend

I thought the community might want to know a bit about what’s coming

PPHS indicates its need for being is to help a “target student population” of “underrepresented minority students” - particularly west side residents, with a STEM type program.  It goes on to say that this group is fed on to Washington High School and implies that Washington is in some way defective.

In South Bend, any High School student can choose to attend any of the four High Schools with provided transportation. Riley has a robust STEM program already, and Washington’s most recent state grade was a C -  average.  

I do know from my time as a CASA and having lived here 28 years, students in this group often suffer from deficits in reading and writing skills.  Without rectifying those issues, any learning will be difficult.  The application offered no awareness of this problem, let alone any strategy to address it.

The part of their approach they spend the most time explaining sounds pretty similar to Project Based learning programs which failed at the short-lived New Tech High School here.  It is now the focus of a magnet program at Jackson Middle School, where perhaps it will do better. The other 50% of students’ grades come from “online learning” and testing via Edmentum.  

Online K-12 education has a dubious record generally.  And the problem with trying to research Edmentum on a Google search is that they wrote almost everything that appears in the results. Not particularly helpful. And if this program is aimed at a group with struggling readers, what is the likely efficacy of online self-education for a student with poor reading/comprehension skills? That isn’t explained.

Perplexingly, the program they offer also requires students to make a lifetime career decision in the 10th grade, with scheduled reaffirmations. How many people do you know who felt capable of making that decision at age 15?  And of that group, for how many did that actually work out?

Reviewing the course list, one discovers very narrow offerings. No arts instruction of any kind.  No dance, theatre, visual arts, vocal music, instrumental music – in fact, I could find nothing inviting individual creativity at all.

Public education aspires to help our children grow into informed, productive, and at least reasonably comfortable citizens. Arts education is critical for this. Programs such as PPHS’ are designed to produce workers for a specific industry, and nothing more. Additionally, they reveal that their long term objective is to create a nation-wide network of “Charter Schools that will serve as an academic feeder system to Purdue University”.

So what is the track record of this program? The reality is that it has less than three years of experience in Indianapolis, no graduates, and only one testing experience involving a very small number of students. It has had a difficult time with its enrollment goals in a city much bigger than South Bend. At this point, it can best be described as an experimental program.

Knowing all this, it was a stunner to discover that our public school corporation Superintendent helped this privately managed program to take root here and that he has been in negotiation for months with them for an alliance with SBCSC. That would work great for PPHS.  It would give them better access for recruiting, but those students would likely already be SBCSC students.  If the goals aren’t met, the program might add expense, rather than revenue. In any case, it would tend to give the program a sense of legitimacy it has not up to now been able to earn on its own.

I’ll confess to some discomfort with placing our children in the position of guinea pigs.  The experiment is already under way in Indianapolis.  I think that we should allow enough time to evaluate the results before endorsing an alliance.  It’s hard to make good decisions without good data.

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