‘I didn’t really research anything’ in high school, D.C. valedictorian says

This Washington Post story by my colleague Emma Brown tells the revealing story of the academic trouble that some of the highest achieving graduates from D.C. Public Schools face when they start college.

It raises questions about just how far the schools have come under the corporate-influenced education reform plan started in 2007 by then chancellor Michelle Rhee, who closed schools, fired many teachers and principals and revamped the teacher evaluation system to link teachers pay and jobs to standardized test scores.

Here’s an excerpt about the 2011 valedictorian of troubled Ballou High School, Sache Collier, who struggled when she first got to Penn State University:

Collier, the 2011 valedictorian at Ballou Senior High in Southeast Washington, said the first thing she noticed when she arrived at Penn State University was how intently her fellow students paid attention during class.

 

“It was like, ‘Wow, everyone’s on the same page and everyone wants to learn,’ ” Collier said. “At Ballou, it wasn’t like that at all. I was always trying to get the students quiet.”

 

Collier had been a star at Ballou, where fewer than one-quarter of students are proficient in math and reading. But she said that her classes largely dealt with the basics: summarizing story plots, for example, and learning how to write complete and grammatically correct sentences.

 

Only in her senior year, in an advanced English course, did a teacher challenge her to think more deeply. “I feel like it was too late,” said Collier, who took two of the three AP classes she said were available to her at Ballou. “It just wasn’t enough to have that kind of teacher for one year.”

 

In her first semester at Penn State, Collier took seminars in which professors asked her to synthesize ideas, develop arguments and do original research. It was new to her.

“We had to go into the library all the time and research articles and really, really write,” Collier said. “It was difficult for me because I hadn’t done that in high school. I didn’t have to write a lot. I didn’t really research anything.”

Wouldn’t a simple but effective school reform be to require that all students write at least one serious research paper before they can graduate high school?

Emma Brown’s piece features other D.C. Public Schools valedictorians, including a newly graduated one on his way to Georgetown University. Read the whole story here.

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss · June 17, 2013