The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

Getting Things Right in Oregon’s High Schools

on January 27, 2018

 


When I opened our local newspaper, The Oregonian, yesterday I was thrilled that at last there was some good news for me to write about. I was especially pleased because the news was about Oregon’s public high schools, which  I feel close to because I taught some of their teachers, and also  because those schools have had a bad reputation for a long time. I will give you the details below.


Over the past several years Oregon’s high school graduation rates have been the third worst in the nation. But in 2017 those schools produced their biggest improvement since the measurement system began eight years ago. In addition, they are doing a far better job of helping Latino, high poverty, and special education students to graduate on time.

Although last year’s graduation rate of 77 percent  is only one point higher than that of the previous year, there is considerable evidence that schools are moving in the right direction. The State Schools officer, Colt Gill, declared that “Oregon schools have made impressive strides at making instruction far more culturally relevant for students of color, tracking students’ individual progress, and honoring bilingual students for their skill.’’

Many of the educators from the schools and districts that achieved high graduation rates are eager to talk about their role in helping students succeed. One school in a rural area had top graduation rates, even though one third of its students were from low-income homes. Another school, where 25 percent of the students are Latino and 50 percent are from low-income families, produced a graduation rate of 92 percent that was better than the rates of schools with much wealthier student populations.

In addition several high schools have adopted a number of programs aimed at catching students before they get into serious trouble. For example, one school gives individualized support to those kids who are showing signs of problems at home, slipping in their school attendance, or not caring much about their classroom performance. Detailed records of those students’ progress are kept in the school office and given close attention by the principal. As one said, “We chase kids down and we let them know we really believe in them.”

Students with disabilities have also received increased attention and assistance. As a result, their graduation rates have risen markedly. One high school assigned a special education teacher to work with regular teachers in all the important classes that have a number of special education students. As a result, 81 percent of those students earned diplomas on time last year. Four other high schools that also had large numbers of disabled students were only slightly behind in their graduation rates.

Although Oregon still has a way to go to match the graduation rates of such states  as Iowa and New Jersey, that are currently graduating 90 percent of their students on time, it is on the right track and determined to get even better results each year from now on.

What impressed me most about the actions of Oregon’s high schools was their emphasis on giving understanding and support to students who needed them instead of threats or punishment.  In every other article I’ve read about efforts to improve student behavior in low performing schools, the actions of school leaders were always some form of tightening the screws on students and teachers. Oregon’s school leaders have taken the high road in choosing to improve the lives of students, and in so doing improved their reputation and their own lives.

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