ARMCHAIR QUARTERBACKING JEFFERSON HIGHSCHOOL

There is a lot of talk in Portland about Jefferson High school these days. Many of the proposals show promise as does the administration’s interest in a North Portland school usually footnoted with explanations and excuses.
The Oregonian’s Renee Mitchell recently applauded the school’s reform measures but from a perspective that worries me. The Oregonian’s perspective also explains why it took “˜No Child Left Behind’ before an answer beyond firing the school’s Principle and laying of other managers was considered.

Renee Mitchell, January 4th, 2006

“Jefferson has a unique opportunity to reshape itself, once again, into an institution that prepares all of its graduates for the real world, whether they attend college or not. But, that goal requires changes. Systematic and deep. Innovative and groundbreaking. Scary and different from what’s being done there.”

And-

“For dynamic improvement, you need to take gut-churning risks.”

Scary, different, and gut churning risks — Huh??? Wow, that makes me want to ante up my love-ones way more than before.

Jefferson’s problems start and finish with perceptions. Of the students, the school’s management, and education the school offers. These problems are further compounded by the school district unwillingness to set and enforce standards for attendance and performance at Jefferson locking in many students who wouldn’t be allowed to attend at other schools in Portland.

A simple solution exists. The issue with Jefferson High School remains the quality question. A widespread belief that Jefferson is a sub-par institution will continue to drain students away from this neighborhood school as few parents willingly gamble with their children’s future.

How do you take away the risk? Guarantee every Jefferson student’s education.

A two tier approach, one to overcome the perception of Jefferson’s academic track record and another to attract back to the school the type-A college bound students who raise the bar.

The Education Guarantee

The first step is to guarantee that every student passing across Jefferson’s stage at graduation can immediately enter college without re-taking remedial classes. High school graduates requiring a review of the same course work that their high schools claimed they mastered just three or four months prior is a common occurance and disparately impacts students from the underperforming schools such as Jefferson.

If a Jefferson graduate crossing Killingsworth Street for Portland Community College the PPS will cover the cost of their remedial course work to bring them up to college level if the school failed to do so. If the school claims your education is up to par and it isn’t they should fix the problem rather than promise not to make the same mistake next time.

As schools simultaneously train teenagers for the workforce and college entry competence, this will ensure both standards are met. This guarantee would also allow a check and balance on the PPS’s own statistics on improvement, confirming results with unbiased and independent measure of high school competency.

Attract the Best and Brightest Back to the Neighborhood

The second step, geared at attracting top performing students from the neighborhood, would be to offer a free years tuition to any Oregon college or university if a Jefferson student completes four years at Jefferson with a GPA above a 3.5. This change alone would likely bring a waiting list to Jefferson as the students own motivation has much more to do with an education than the institution itself.

This type of program has been used successfully in Alaska, a state in which the best academic performers leave the state for better ranked schools. The Alaska scholars program has done an amazing job of convincing the top performers in the state to stay home for college reinvesting their talents in the community that raised them.

And for those of you readers who say “˜how will we pay for such a system?’ I guarantee this system will be much less costly than engineering two new programs from scratch (There’s a strong chance it would cost less than hiring a single Goldscmidt to administer it). The education guarantee alone should cost much less than establishing a single new administrator position. If it costs more we have serious issues with what qualifies a student to graduate.

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