My Assistant Principal came to me and asked me how can we improve test scores in the science department. My simple answer; Get me better students and I will give you better test scores. We both laughed because the answer, while simple, cannot be implemented.
My school is an overcrowded large high school, with large class sizes, many recent immigrants with varying levels of education, and a Regional Office that has no problem dumping excess students from other large schools who became small schools into my school. Further, it seems the Principal refuses to defend the school by allowing the Regional Office to do as they please, even allowing students who were jailed for violent crimes to return to the very school they terrorized in the first place!
In some cases the student enters our school in their freshmen year as functional illiterates. How any school system allows this is beyond belief. These children should be flagged well before they enter high school and they should be put into an alternate setting with intensive reading and writing programs in a small class environment until they are certified as ready for high school. Recent immigrants with high school age children present a special problem, especially, if their native language is not english. Too many of these children find their way into my science class with no skills and are very frustrated at their inability to move ahead.
Many teens who are not academically prepared for high school may take out their frustrations by bullying other student, join gangs, and find themselves dropping out of school and/or going to jail. The result is an unsafe school that starts to spiral downward and will not stop until, under NCLB the good students will leave the school. Finally, the school closes down, or is broken into smaller schools and what was once a good school is no more.
It is easy for me to blame the parent, the middle school, the Department of Education, or the child advocates who protect the rights of the child at the expense of the student body. However, the real blame lies with the politicans who approve rules that makes it next to impossible for schools to throw out discipline problems, turn a blind eye to social promotion, and restricts teachers in how they handle their classroom (micromanagment).
How do we ensure the student has a chance to graduate? By intervening at the first indication that the child is falling behind. First, small classes so all the children have a maximum opportunity to learn the basics. Second, one-to-one tutoring with teachers specially trained to work with these children. Third, zero tolerance of destructive behavior, suspending and removing the child to an alternative setting. This lets the other students know that the school is a building of learning. Finally, letting teachers teach in a way that works for both the teacher and the student. The "one-size-fits-all" top-down approach does not and will never work when a teacher cannot teach what's best for the class.
Why can't students learn? Because the teacher does not have or is allowed to use the tools that are needed for the child to graduate and be a productive member of society.