Low-performing HISD schools make Newsweek's best list

June 14, 2010 5:08:08 PM PDT
Newsweek magazine has released its list of the top high schools in America. More than 20 Houston-area schools made it on the list, including a couple schools which have been ranked as being the worst in the state. So how did that happen? While he's extremely happy, HISD Superintendent Dr. Terry Grier says he's not satisfied. If anything, the list, he says, highlights the critical need to help those students who are struggling to read or do math at their grade level.

Two months ago, we told you how HISD's Lee and Sharpstown high schools had been rated as failing schools and were in danger of being shut down by the state because of poor academic performance. As underperforming as these schools may be, according to Newsweek Magazine, they are still among the best high schools in the country.

"What it says to me is in these schools is we are doing a better job, or a good job, of meeting the level of our students that are in the middle or at the top academically," said Dr. Grier.

Twenty-one Houston area schools made America's best high school list, 15 of which are in HISD. That number is up from seven last year.

Two HISD schools made the Top 100. At number 29, HISD's Carnegie Vanguard was the top Houston school, up from 98 in 2009. DeBakey High School for Health Professions came in at number 70, up from 198 last year.

Besides Carnegie Vanguard and DeBakey, four other HISD schools are returning to the list this year. They include Bellaire (#130), Westside (#312), the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (#388) and Lamar (#566).

Nine HISD schools are new to the list: Lee (#151), Sharpstown (#556), Chavez (#744), Scarborough (#1042), Sam Houston (#1182), High School for Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice (#1248), Challenge Early College High School (#1299), Waltrip (#1382) and Milby (#1418).

"We have more children than we've ever had before taking more rigorous courses in high school and I think that's going to bode well for the district and for our individual students," Dr. Grier said.

He says HISD can do a much better job of meeting the needs of all its students, especially those at the bottom.

"We've got to work really hard to meet their needs and it's tough because many of these students are coming into high school two to three years below grade level in reading and math," Dr. Grier said.

Jay Mathews, the reporter for Newsweek Magazine who wrote the article, told us in a statement, "We were aware that some of these schools were underperforming. They are on the list because they decided to address the issue in a very aggressive and unusual manner by getting as many students as possible in advanced placement and accepting the fact they will do poorly. It also gives them the opportunity to exercise their academic muscles to get better."

Sharpstown's passing grade on the AP test was 18 percent, while Lee's was 25 percent.

The honor for Sharpstown High School, ranked 556 by Newsweek, comes at a time when it was also identified as one of HISD's low-performing schools. The Apollo 20 plan is meant to turn around nine HISD schools identified as low-performing, and Sharpstown was one of four high schools named in the plan.

Lee which, ranked 312, was also part of the district's Apollo 20 project. The program reassigns more than 150 teachers at the district's lowest performing schools. Gayle Fallon, President of the Houston Federation of Teachers, is confused.

"They are told, 'Well, because of poor performance of the school you are not going to be here anymore.' However, a couple of days later you are nationally recognized. So my question if I were a teacher there would be: Do I get to stay?" said Fallon.

According to HISD, the key elements of the Apollo 20 plan includes staffing changes, more instructional time, high dosages of tutoring and instruction, and the use of data to drive instruction and a culture of high expectations for staff and students.

The survey was only based on the number of advanced placement and international baccalaureate tests given at a school each year, divided by the number of graduating seniors.

The researchers did not consider teacher quality, extracurricular activities or other factors, considering them to be too subjective.

Newsweek says that only 1622 schools, or 6 percent of the approximately 27,000 U.S. public high schools, met the standards to be included.


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