In Hillsboro, Ore., Liberty High broke into small schools four years ago, but its dropout rate remains the highest in a district with three other traditional high schools. Despite progress in getting more students to take college-prep courses, three in five Liberty graduates fall short of entry standards for the University of Oregon — the district's definition of college-ready.It's the program's a-ha moment, but for me, it's a no-duh moment. Smaller schools, or, for that matter, smaller classes, make zero difference if the pedagogical model stays the same. Canned, derivative, disengaging teaching and curriculum will be as ineffective in a school of 400 as they are in a school of 4,000.
Twyla Baggarley, who graduated from Liberty this month, passed Advanced Placement calculus as a junior but worries that she might not be primed for college after a lackluster senior year. Tired of teachers who taught straight from the textbook, she chose to take just one full-year core course, AP English, and padded her schedule with photography and two periods of PE.
She and other students say administrators seemed so caught up in tinkering with the small schools' structure that they didn't pay enough attention to the quality of teaching.
At least the foundation is learning from failure:
This fall, Gates probably will switch the focus of its grants for fixing high schools to target teaching and raise teacher quality, says Vicki Phillips, who directs Gates' education initiatives.Repeat after me: there is no single panacea for education.