Does school reform have to mean separate and unequal?

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Making test scores too high a priority can ultimately limit students' real potential. A recent report about the success of Alice Deal Middle School in Washington DC, where low-income students enjoy a variety of enrichment options, and a charter school that rejects such enrichment, where they score a bit higher on reading and math tests, highlights that ironic reality. But it doesn't have to be that way. Just across the city line, Maryland's Montgomery County demonstrates that taking a broader perspective enhances not only test scores, but more important predictors of life success.

A DC success story

Deal, located in one of the city's toniest neighborhoods, used to serve mostly low-income, minority students, and its test scores and reputation were poor. Recently, however, DC Public Schools (DCPS) has used a variety of strategies to draw professional families into District schools, transforming schools like Deal. WAMU-FM reporter Kavitha Cardoza depicts an oasis of quality, creativity, and the kinds of offerings normally restricted to expensive private schools.

Students Connor Yu and Charley Mestrich describe Deal's 60-plus clubs -- "from anime to Minecraft to cooking to board games" -- as "fun," and Principal James Albright leverages its resources to help students gain the abstract thinking skills and independence they'll need in high school and beyond. Deal has fantastic test scores, but the school's focus is on getting its students ready for life writ large. And it's doing a great job.

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