Time to turn management of Ballou High School over to a high performing charter

Last Tuesday, WAMU and National Public Radio released an article by Kate McGee detailing extremely serious allegations regarding fraud in allowing many of the students who graduated from Ballou High School to receive diplomas.  From the story:

“An investigation by WAMU and NPR has found that Ballou High School’s administration graduated dozens of students despite high rates of unexcused absences. WAMU and NPR reviewed hundreds of pages of Ballou’s attendance records, class rosters and emails after a DCPS employee shared the private documents. The documents showed that half of the graduates missed more than three months of school last year, unexcused. One in five students was absent more than present — missing more than 90 days of school. . . Another internal email obtained by WAMU and NPR from April shows that two months before graduation, only 57 students were on track to graduate, with dozens of students missing graduation requirements, community service requirements or failing classes needed to graduate.”

The school had touted the fact that all of its 164 seniors had graduated and been accepted to college.

But after WAMU and NPR spoke to approximately 12 current and former teachers at the school and four recent graduates, it was revealed that instructors felt pressure from their superiors to ensure that students passed.  They were told not to fail students and some stated that if they resisted their contracts were not renewed.  Their review uncovered other irregularities around student eligibility for graduation.

This is disgusting.  Obviously, numerous seniors were matriculated without being able to read, write, or perform basic arithmetic.  Standardized test score proficiency rates at Ballou are 22 percent in reading and 10 percent in math.  What is also highly upsetting is that it looks like the current DCPS administration is unequipped to fix the situation.  Chancellor Antwan Wilson has asserted that Ballou principal Yetunde Reeves should stay in her position.  Jane Spence, DCPS Chief of Secondary Schools had this to say, again from the WAMU piece, “It is expected that our students will be here every day, but we also know that students learn material in lots of different ways. So we’ve started to recognize that students can have mastered material even if they’re not sitting in a physical space.”

One current Ballou teacher had a different view on the subject.  “It’s oppressive to the kids because you’re giving them a false sense of success.”

Yesterday, D.C. Mayor Bowser announced that two investigations have begun into the allegations at Ballou, one by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education and another by two deputy chancellors.  David Grosso, chairman of the D.C. Council’s education committee, will hold a hearing on the matter.  But I’m afraid all of this is too little too late.  Ms. Bowser bristled when I suggested to her recently that D.C.’s high performing charter schools should take over traditional schools that are not making academic progress.  Perhaps now she will give my idea more serious consideration.


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