Yesterday I wrote about Gov Deval Patrick’s praise for Orchard Gardens, a Boston school with a tenuous one-year record of progress, noting that the governor had passed up the opportunity to highlight a truly remarkable Massachusetts turnaround he knows well–that of Brockton High, the largest high school in the state. I also suggested that one reason for Gov. Patrick’s choice is that Orchard Gardens, which fired 80 percent of its teachers (it also had six principals in its first seven years of operation), better fits the traditional education-reform narrative, which disproportionately scapegoats teachers for the problems with schools. By contrast, Brockton has pursued a teacher-driven literacy strategy that has produced, over the course of a decade, dramatic improvements in test scores and graduation rates for its students, most of whom are poor and either Latino or African-American.
Diane Ravitch picked up my post on her blog, and Susan Szachowicz, the long-time principal of Brockton High, saw it and wrote me this email:
I forwarded Diane Ravitch’s blog and your article to our entire faculty. What a great lift for us to begin our year. It is so funny that you did this because we were all pouting that he [Gov. Patrick] highlighted Orchard Gardens for all the reasons that you said.
And here’s the most incredible news – we have yet another significant improvement in our scores for this year! We are SOOOO excited, I feel like we shattered the four minute mile. And here’s the part that’s the best – you hit on it. We have had a decade of that slow, consistent, sustained improvement. I think that’s the most impressive part of our story. It was not about a sudden one time only improvement; we did have that at the beginning. But I think what’s best about our story is the consistent, sustained improvement. We are so proud of that. We can’t wait to release the scores. Right now they are still embargoed by the state, but when we can release them we will SHOUT them out.
A system designed for consistent, sustained improvement is what’s missing in most education reform efforts. For all of Brockton’s success, it has been largely ignored by the “reformers,” including Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee and the Gates Foundation, none of whom has ever been to the school. But Gov. Patrick has visited Brockton; if he wanted to highlight a school with a proven track record of improvement, why didn’t he pick Brockton?