Book: A tale of education reform at Austin’s John H. Reagan High School

The new issue of Texas Monthly also features a book review of “Saving the School: The True Story of a Principal, a Teacher, a Coach, a Bunch of Kids, and a Year in the Crosshairs of Education Reform” by Michael Brick. “Why Johnny Can’t Learn”, Elizabeth Green, Texas Monthly, August 2012.

The book’s author casts education reformers as the enemy:

Reformers, he asserts, are not educators but “profiteers” intent on “selling out” public education by imposing a corporate “reward and punishment system” ill-suited to the task of cultivating minds.

The book’s hero is principal Anabel Garza. Squeezed by regulations, she makes a perverse decision:

He describes, for instance, how Garza works to meet the state’s goal for the “completion rate,” an approximation of the number of students who graduate or get a GED in four years. Garza points out that if students fail to enroll or are absent often enough that she can kick them out, then the won’t be counted among the students who are expected to finish. And voilà! Reagan’s completion rate rises. “I’m going to run it till somebody stops me and calls me on it,” Garza says, explaining her plan to drop student with unexcused absences.

By the end of the 2009-10 school year, the school must either raise its standardized test scores, or it will be closed. The reviewer notes, however, that for this school and for these students, success is hard to define and grasp.

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