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Fixing D.C.'s Schools

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For Jonathan Lewis, It's Fourth and Goal

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Fixing D.C.'s Schools

Narrated Photos: Failing Jonathan

In May of this year, Jonathan Lewis was in danger of failing to graduate for the second year in a row. Had Calvin Coolidge Senior High prepared him to enter the real world?

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By Lonnae O'Neal Parker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 12, 2007

Second of two parts

If Jonathan Lewis is going to make it out of Calvin Coolidge Senior High, he has to pass Harold Cox's U.S. history class. And Mr. Cox has a reputation for being one of the school's strictest teachers.

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In Cox's class, students sign roll, take their assigned seats and write their warm-up. No one is allowed without pen and paper. Cox confiscates cellphones, iPods and hats. He takes pictures of students acting out in class and e-mails them to parents. He doesn't let students laugh at others who stumble when reading. Cursing is not allowed.

"Children want structure," he says. "You establish that early on."

It's an environment students either love or hate, Cox says. The ones who hate it avoid his class for as long as possible. For Jonathan, who is trying for the second time to graduate, it's spring, and time is up.

He had Cox for world history in fall 2006. He nearly failed, but Cox let him make up a missing report, and he passed with a D. Cox told Jonathan to expect no further favors.

Then Cox failed Jonathan for the first half of U.S. history this spring because he didn't show up. Not once the entire nine weeks. Jonathan swore he thought the schedule was wrong. When he saw Cox's name, he assumed it was for the world history class he had already taken.

That wouldn't be far-fetched. Of all the challenges facing Coolidge -- and the D.C. public schools system -- schedules and records have been among the most entrenched. Students, parents and teachers say kids frequently have been put in classes they have already taken, scheduled for two classes at the same time and not scheduled for classes they need.

Derrick Walker had been in Advanced Placement English for nearly three months when a counselor noticed that he needed English 4 and switched him. Walker doesn't know if he'll still get credit for AP English.

Martique Vanderpool, a transfer from Prince George's County, says it took more than a year to get his schedule and records straight. "They had the wrong rank, the wrong cumulative, the wrong classes, the wrong attendance," he says.

Kellyse Hood, the top-ranked senior, says her fall schedule was wrong two years in a row. She was put in algebra in 11th grade even though she had taken honors algebra in 10th and needed pre-calculus instead. In 12th grade, she said, she needed only two classes to graduate and wanted a half-day schedule so she could work but was given a full schedule with electives she didn't need.

Math teacher Dara Zeehandelaar says she had a student in a class he had already passed. His schedule had been corrected, "but nobody told him."


CONTINUED     1                 >

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