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Failing grade

"Failing grade" Continued...

Issue: "Rocks in their heads?," Sept. 11, 2010

In two years, the retention rate at Locke High School has gone from 84 percent to 93 percent. Student test scores have improved by 74 percent in English. Green Dot Schools has created successful charter schools from scratch, but turning a school around was "immensely harder," said Petruzzi: "We got it mostly right. I wouldn't say we were flawless. . . . It's definitely going well."

If the city closes a failing school, one thing is clear: There should be a better alternative nearby. The Consortium on Chicago School Research found that closing a school only improves a student's academic performance if he goes to a better school afterward-and only 6 percent of the Chicago students shoved out of failing schools ended up in top schools.

When New York City's Department of Education announced that it was closing 19 low-performing schools, it faced community meetings that lasted until 2 a.m. and a lawsuit alleging that the city failed to get "meaningful community involvement." The city sent out impact reports for the closing schools, but parents complained that they looked like templates. "They don't get the concept that even though it's their building, their school-without us and our kids they don't have a school," Chico said.

Even though she defends Maxwell High School, Chico gives the school a "C"-just one letter grade above the city's grade and partly for improvement over the last two years. And with improvements and heroic teachers, the school's academics are weak, and it will take more than two years and a change in principals. Hopefully the alternative is not an hour-long train ride away.

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