Back at Sulphur Springs Elementary, the nationally certified teachers know that all too well. They used to get bonuses of up to $9,000 a year, but budget cuts swallowed up half.
Fixing Failing Schools. Perhaps the most ambitious goal of the Obama administration's reforms is turning around troubled schools. It's a gargantuan task. Thousands of "dropout factories" have already undergone several failed attempts at reform. But research on Duncan's strategies of closing failed schools and opening more charter schools (publicly funded but independently run) finds that, on average, they hurt students' achievement more often than they help.
Some studies, however, have identified a handful of turnaround and charter systems, such as Success for All, Green Dot, and the Knowledge Is Power Program, that seem to be consistently helping students. One secret of their success: They ruthlessly apply many different proven strategies, such as longer school days, high standards, and even school uniforms.
On a recent morning at the KIPP King high school in San Lorenzo, Calif., sophomore Pernell Rash Jr., 16, was in AP World History, learning about Matteo Ricci, the 16th-century Chinese-speaking Jesuit missionary who helped link Asia and Europe. Rash, whose struggles in ninth grade prompted him to consider leaving the school, is now on the honor roll.
KIPP schools aren't perfect. Many of them have high dropout and transfer rates. The KIPP King school is so small and new that it doesn't have many teams or athletic facilities. Rash has to travel to a gym for basketball practice. He doesn't have much free time. His eight-hour school days begin and end with a one-hour bus ride to his Oakland home. But Rash will stick it out. A cousin who left the KIPP school for a regular high school is done with classes at 2 every day and is bored, he says. Rash has his eye on a scholarship to Syracuse.
Meanwhile, KIPP managers are eyeing Race to the Top funding to expand their current nationwide network of 82 schools to at least 110 in the next two years. KIPP's success makes Rash's father wonder why other public schools, such as the Oakland, Calif., schools he attended, have been allowing generations to fail. If his schools had had such interesting classes, held him to such high standards, and provided lots of tutoring, he might have gone to college himself. "I think my life would have been tremendously different," he muses.
Fortunately for his son, some schools, at least, are changing for the better. The challenge now is to spread those real improvements beyond a few thousand lucky students.