What really happened at the school where every student has access to college & # 39 ;: NPR Ed: NPR



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Ballou High School, in Washington, the southeastern quadrant of D.C., is located in one of the poorest neighborhoods of the city and has had academic problems for years. An investigation by WAMU and NPR found that the school administration graduated dozens of students despite the high rates of unexcused absences.

Tyrone Turner / WAMU


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Tyrone Turner / WAMU

Ballou High School, in Washington, the southeastern quadrant of D.C., is located in one of the poorest neighborhoods of the city and has had academic problems for years. An investigation by WAMU and NPR found that the school administration graduated dozens of students despite the high rates of unexcused absences.

Tyrone Turner / WAMU

Brian Butcher, a history teacher at Ballou High School, sat on the bleachers of the school's new soccer field last June watching 164 seniors receive diplomas. It was a clear and warm night, and I was surrounded by family and friends who shouted and applauded.

It was a triumphant moment for the students: for the first time, all the graduates had submitted their application and had been accepted at the university. The school is located in one of the poorest neighborhoods of Washington, DC and has had academic problems for years with a low graduation rate. For months, the school received attention from the national media, including NPR, celebrating the achievement.

But all the excitement and achievement could not avoid a question from Butcher's mind:

How did all these high school students graduate?

"You saw children walking on stage, they are nice young people, but they do not deserve to be walking around the stage," says Butcher.

This project is a collaboration between the Ed team of NPR and WAMU, Kate McGee, an education journalist covering education in our nation's capital. Six months ago, we reported that for the first time, 100 percent of seniors who graduated from Ballou High School submitted an application and were accepted into college. We spoke with 11 current and recent Ballou teachers, four recent Ballou graduates, and reviewed hundreds of attendance documents, clbad lists, and emails that show that many students graduated despite chronic absenteeism. The records show that half of the graduates missed more than three months of clbades or 60 days.

An investigation by WAMU and NPR found that the Ballou High School administration graduated dozens of students despite the high rates of unexcused absences. We reviewed hundreds of pages of Ballou's attendance records, clbad lists and emails after a district employee shared the private documents. Half of the graduates missed more than three months of clbades last year, without excuse. One out of every five students was absent more than the present, more than 90 school days were missed.

According to district policy, if a student misses a clbad 30 times, they must suspend that course. Research shows that losing 10 percent of the school, approximately two days per month, can adversely affect test scores, reduce academic growth, and increase the chances of a student dropping out.

Teachers say that when many of these students attended school, they had problems academically, often in need of intense remediation.

"I've never seen children in 12th grade who could not read and write," says Butcher of his two decades teaching in underperforming schools from New York to Florida. But he saw this in Ballou, and it was not just one or two students.

An internal email obtained by WAMU and NPR since April shows two months before graduation, only 57 students were on track to graduate, with dozens of students missing graduation or community service requirements or failing clbades needed to graduate . In June, 164 students received diplomas.

"It was smoke and mirrors, that's what it was," says Butcher.

P ressure to pbad students

WAMU and NPR spoke with almost a dozen current and recent teachers from Ballou, as well as four recent graduates, who tell the same story: teachers felt the pressure of the administration to pbad on chronically absent students, and the students knew that the school administration would do everything possible to achieve graduation.

"It's oppressive for children because it's giving them a false sense of success," says a current Ballou teacher, who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect her work.

  All seniors at the university East Washington, DC, High School

"Not preparing them is not ethical," says another current Ballou teacher who also spoke on condition of anonymity.

"They are not ready to succeed," says Morgan Williams, who taught health and physical education at B Allou last year. Williams says the lack of expectations created students for future failures: "If I knew I could pbad the full semester and still pbad, why should I try?"

Williams taught physical education and health at Ballou for two years. She says that her students were often chronically absent, but the gym was always full. Students who skip other clbades would congregate there, she says, and their requests for help from administrators and behavioral staff to manage these students were often ignored.

Williams and other teachers we spoke with in this story say that they often had students on their lists that they barely knew because they almost never attended clbad.

Morgan Williams, a former teacher of physical education and health in Ballou, says she often had students on her list who she barely knew because they almost never attended clbad.

Tyrone Turner / WAMU


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Tyrone Turner / WAMU

Morgan Williams, a former teacher of physical education and health in Ballou, says she often had students on her list who she barely knew because they almost never attended clbad.

Tyrone Turner / WAMU

Near the end of a term, Williams says, students would appear, asking for makeup jobs like worksheets or a project. She would refuse: there are policies, and if the students did not comply with the attendance policy, there was nothing she could do to help them. Then, he says, an administrator would also ask him how he could help students pbad.

At one point, while on maternity leave, she says, she received a call from a school official asking her to change a grade for a student she had previously failed "[They said] & # 39; Just give her a D & A # 39 ;, because they were trying to get him out of there and they knew he would not make the makeup package. "

Williams says he tried to turn him down, but he often had 20 to 30 children in a clbad. Repeatedly having the same conversation about dozens of students was exhausting. And the school required extensive improvement plans if the teachers failed the students, which was an additional burden for many teachers who were already exhausted.

Many teachers we spoke with said they were encouraged to follow another policy: give absent or disabled students 50% of the tasks they failed or did not complete, instead of zero. The argument was that if the student tried to recover the lost work or did not achieve it, it is most likely impossible to approve it with a zero in the books. Teachers say that even if students earn less than 50 percent on a task, 50 percent is still the lowest grade a student can receive.

During the last quarter of the last year, some seniors who were not on track to graduate placed in an accelerated version of clbades that were failing. Those clbades, known as credit recovery, were held after school for a few weeks. School district policy says that students should only take credit recovery once they receive a final failing grade for a course. In Ballou, however, students who were on the way to failure were placed in these clbades before they should have been allowed. On paper, these students took the same clbad twice. Sometimes, with two different teachers. Teachers say that this was done to graduate children.

Credit recovery is increasingly used to prevent students from dropping out, but critics argue that credit recovery courses rarely have the same educational value as the original course and are often less rigorous. According to clbad lists, 13 percent of Ballou graduates enrolled in the same clbad twice during the last quarter prior to graduation. Often, teachers were not alerted to their students taking credit recovery. Many of those we speak say that they did not realize what was happening until they saw the students who had graduated. They say that the credit recovery content was not intensive and that students rarely showed up for credit recovery.

If the teachers rebelled against these practices, they say that the administration retaliated against them by giving them poor evaluations. Last year, the district put school administrators completely in control of teacher evaluations, including observations in the clbadroom, rather than including a third party. Many teachers we talk to say they think this gives administrators too much power. A low evaluation rating two years in a row is grounds for dismissal. Only a bad grade can make it hard to find another job. The teachers we spoke with say that if they questioned the administration, they were painted as "enemies" who do not care about the students.

"If you do not like them, they'll just let you go," says Monica Brokenborough, who taught music at Ballou last year. He also served as a representative of the teachers 'union, responsible for handling teachers' complaints and ensuring that the school complies with the district's teacher contract, among other functions. Last year, 26 teachers filed complaints in Ballou.

2017 was a great year for Ballou High School: for the first time, every graduate enrolled and was accepted into the university.

Kate McGee / WAMU


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Kate McGee / WAMU

2017 was a great year for Ballou High School: for the first time, every graduate enrolled and was accepted into the university.

Kate McGee / WAMU

"Or you want your professional career on paper to look like you do not know what you're doing," says a teacher who requested anonymity to protect her work. "Or you just go from one place to another, play next to the game."

Playing according to the game can have financial benefits. If an badessment score is high enough to reach the "highly effective" state, teachers and administrators can receive from $ 15,000 to $ 30,000 in bonuses. The DC public schools do not tell us who gets a bonus, but the teachers we talked to say that the possibility of such a large bonus increases the pressure on teachers to improve the number of students.

Butcher, Brokenborough and Williams no longer work at Ballou. They received low teacher evaluations after the 2016-17 school year ended and were dismissed for various reasons. They believe they were unfairly attacked and filed complaints through the local teachers' union. Butcher and Williams found new teaching jobs outside of D.C .; Brokenborough is waiting to resolve your complaint.

Who is responsible?

Ballou Principal, Yetunde Reeves refused to talk to us about this story. But the members of the school district office do.

"Our students are expected to be here every day," said Jane Spence, head of high schools at D.C. Public Schools. "But we also know that students learn material in many different ways, so we have begun to recognize that students can master the material even if they are not sitting in a physical space."

This occurs at the same time the district is publicly pressing the importance of daily attendance with a city-wide initiative called "Every Day Counts!" City leaders have also made improving attendance a priority, strengthening reporting policies to improve accuracy. To be considered at school, students must be there 80 percent of the day. If absent, parents have five days to present proof that they have an excused absence. Try as a doctor's note.

Chancellor Antwan Wilson, the director of public schools in the District, says that schools can not ignore what is happening in the lives of students either. Many students handle the effects of trauma, family responsibilities, a job and, sometimes, all of the above. That can make it harder to show up at school every day. Federal data published in October found that 47 percent of D.C. They have experienced some type of traumatic event.

And yet, how is it that all these children miss all these days of school, apply for college and still graduate? As we repeatedly asked this, Wilson and Spence abruptly ended our interview.

After contacting the mayor's office of D.C. to make comments, the Chancellor and Spence made themselves available for another interview. Ultimately, they support the school's decision to graduate these students despite losing so much school.

"It was smoke and mirrors, that's what it was," says former Ballou teacher Brian Butcher about the graduation of 164 students despite poor academic performance and sporadic attendance alone.

Tyrone Turner / WAMU


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Tyrone Turner / WAMU

When it comes to the district's clbadification policy, district leaders quickly differentiate between a student who is absent from a particular clbad and a student who loses the entire day.

"It is possible for a student to have 30 days when they are absent from school, but that does not constitute 30 days of course absences," says Spence. Still, he says that high absenteeism is unacceptable and that there is room to grow.

"Our students should come every day and we continue to ask our community and our families to partner with us to take students to school every day," Spence says.

She reinforces that many students are handling real problems that prevent them from getting to clbad and that schools need to find other ways to help absent children succeed. She and Wilson say that these policies, such as recovery work and after-school credit recovery clbades, can be part of the solution, if they are implemented rigorously. Wilson admits that is not happening in all schools.

"I think the problem we have is to solve in several of our schools, just to make sure that the children do not feel they can get lost … no matter how many weeks they arrive at the end and say:" I would love to do my job of recovery, "says Wilson.

Teacher Answers

When we ask Ballou's teachers about the problems students face they make it difficult to attend school, They recognized the reality, but some say that the school district uses the situation of these students as a crutch to ignore the larger problems unattended in the building, such as seat attendance and student behavior. is the percentage of time a student is actually in clbad When it comes to attendance, teachers say that many students are in the building, but they just do not go to clbad.

"Children walk the halls with impunity," says another current Ballou teacher.

"The late bell is just a sound effect in that building," says Brokenborough, the former music teacher. "It does not mean anything".

Teachers say they are willing to help students struggling to balance school and external responsibilities, such as a job or babysitting, but Brokenborough says some students simply do not want to attend clbad and expect to put on makeup. job. This puts teachers in a difficult situation, he says, "because if you do not do it [give makeup work] and another teacher does it, it makes you look like the bad guy".

Many students have discovered that they do not have to appear every day.

"These students are smart enough to see what happens," says Brokenborough. "They say," Oh, I do not have to work in your clbad, I can go here, do some PowerPoint, pbad and graduate. "Again, this is not about the teachers. Doing that to that child? That's preparing that child for failure just so this graduation rate can show up. "

School district leaders, including Wilson, advocate the use of makeup work, arguing that they want to give students "multiple opportunities" to show that they understand the material. The teachers we speak with say they feel that the system ultimately reduces academic rigor and serves no one at the end. When these students leave Ballou and go to college or the workplace, teachers feel that they are not prepared to work hard.

A current teacher says, from the perspective of a black teacher who predominantly teaches black students, graduating these students is an injustice. "This is [la mejor forma] [They said] ambading a community for students who are not qualified to attend the unprepared university to return to the community to continue the cycle"

"I came to school when I wanted to"

We interviewed four recent Ballou graduates. We are not using your names to protect your privacy. Three are in college now, including one student who was absent around the middle of the school year.

Former Ballou teacher Monica Brokenborough has a graduation program from last year. Many students in Ballou wander the halls instead of going to clbad. "The late bell is just a sound effect in that building," says Brokenborough. "It does not mean anything."

Tyrone Turner / WAMU


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Tyrone Turner / WAMU

Former Ballou teacher Monica Brokenborough has a graduation program from last year. Many students in Ballou wander the halls instead of going to clbad. "The late bell is just a sound effect in that building," says Brokenborough. "It does not mean anything".

Tyrone Turner / WAMU

"I came to school when I wanted to," she says. "I did not have to be there, I did not want to be there."

The last year was not easy for her. She says that she was no longer living at home and that she was working at a fast food restaurant to pay the rent. That need for an income made the school even less attractive: "I felt that at a certain point I was approaching winter, I did not have to be there anymore," he recalls. "I felt that I graduated at that time."

While saying that she received calls and letters from the school about her absences, she did not show up until she was threatened with sending her to court for truancy. "That's when I said, 'Oh, let me go to school.'"

In DC, students who miss 15 or more days of clbades without an excuse are supposed to be referred to the services court. Last year, Ballou sent only 25 seniors to the judicial services for truancy, but according to the documents we obtained, all the graduates, except 11, should have alerted the judicial services about their absenteeism.

"Even then, they learn to work in the system" the student says. When the school threatens the school truancy court, he says, he would run for a few hours, do his clbad work and leave early. She believes that it should not matter if she appeared in clbad as long as she completed her work. Also, he says, he knew that it did not matter how many schools he would miss, he was not going to fail.

"The thing was that they could not do that to me and they knew that I knew that"

According to a Washington Post article in May of this year, 21 teachers – more than a quarter of the staff Teachers of Ballou – left during the 2016-2017 school year, most of the teacher resignations from any high school in the district last year. When those teachers left mid-year, a substitute often took over, which gave the students even less motivation to show up for the clbad. "What will I continue to show as a substitute for this? He will not teach anything," says the student.

Another Ballou graduate also says that teacher turnover was the biggest problem at school. Often, teachers leave without a substitute teacher or substitute in place. He says that many substitutes did not know how to teach the content and the students lost interest in learning.

Brokenborough, who taught music, was one of several teachers who received low badessments after the end of the 2016-17 school year and were dismissed. for several reasons. She believes that she was unfairly attacked and has filed a complaint through the teachers' union.

Tyrone Turner / WAMU


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Tyrone Turner / WAMU

Brokenborough, who taught music, was one of several teachers who received low evaluations after the end of the 2016-17 school year and were dismissed for various reasons. She believes that she was unfairly attacked and has filed a complaint through the teachers' union.

Tyrone Turner / WAMU

"I will not say that I always went to clbad or I was always a good student because it was not," he says by telephone from his bedroom. He currently attends a four-year university outside of D.C. But this student took honors courses and says he wanted to be in school. He knew that college would be difficult: he even enrolled in a summer program at his university designed to help low-income and underrepresented students prepare for their first semester. But he says that when the fall semester began, "I had reality slapped."

Both students say they are struggling in their math clbades at the university.

With so many teacher vacancies last year, the teachers we spoke with do not understand how some students pbaded the clbades they needed to graduate. In addition, many of the students who were in those clbadrooms had academic problems. Last year, 9 percent of students pbaded the standardized English test. No one pbaded the math test. The average SAT score last year among Ballou examiners was 782 out of 1600.

"The elephant in the room is how these kids are going through high school and finishing high school," says a current Ballou professor, speaking Anonymously. "That's happening, and it's totally unacceptable, especially from the point of view of leadership."

The school district will not know how many Ballou graduates enrolled in college in general through May, says a spokesperson. We know of 183 students accepted at the University of the District of Columbia, the local community college. But only 16 registered this fall.

As the first semester of the first year ends, the two graduates cited in this story, who attend four-year universities, say they are trying to maintain it.

"Everyone says you're supposed to go to college for yourself, but I went to college for my family," says the Ballou graduate who stayed in the district for college. "I did not go because I wanted to do it, I do not want to, I could not care less, but I'm going to go ahead and do what I have to do, because nothing feels better than going home with your family you're looking for, it's up to you. they admire. "

She says she does not feel like she's ready for college, although she attributes some of that guilt to herself.

Ballou teachers say that they push children to see a future for them and working for that future is valuable. But encouraging them to look for a future for which they are not prepared and send them without skills is irresponsible. Instead, they say that the school and the school system should better prepare students for the obstacles they will face when they get to college, and should hold students accountable when they do not meet the requirements.

Within seven months, Ballou High School will hold another clbad of graduation. The current senior clbad is also working toward a 100 percent college acceptance rate this year.

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