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Struggling Schools Are Still Struggling

The demand to turn around failing schools has so far produced few successes ("After 2 Years, Progress Is Hard to See in Some Struggling City Schools," The New York Times, Jul. 19).  New York City, which is home to the nation's largest school district, is not much different from other urban school systems.

Despite the expenditure of $400 million as part of what the New York City Education Department calls the Renewal program, 14 high schools designated most in need are an example.  Two were closed because of poor performance and enrollment.  A third high school was merged into a higher-performing school.  That leaves 11.  But I doubt they will do any better than the others in their group. 

I say that because I don't believe firing teachers and installing different principals will make much of a difference.  The schools in question and others like them elsewhere in the country are overwhelmingly populated by disadvantaged students who bring huge deficits to their classes.  Yes, there will always be an occasional school that manages to overcome such obstacles and post better outcomes.  But these so-called high fliers are outliers.  Both their sustainability and scalability are doubtful.

It's important to bear this in mind as reformers persist in claiming that they have the answer.  Teachers are not miracle workers. They have their students for a relatively short time during the day.  Then their students return to their homes and neighborhoods, which unfortunately exert more of an influence than even the best schools possibly can.

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