Sucky School Asked to Suck Less Please, Given $6 Million


Regular readers may recall that, statistically speaking, my high school sucked. After years of failing to meet the standards set out in No Child Left Behind and being classified as a "persistently lowest-achieving" school last spring, T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia, chose the least dramatic option available to satisfy the feds that it was serious about reform:

After it made Virginia's list of lowest-achieving schools, Alexandria officials had four options: close it down; bring in new management, such as a charter operator; replace the principal and at least half the teachers; or replace the principal and make an array of improvements.

As a reward for doing a pretty terrible job educating many categories of students and the promising to "make an array of improvements," T.C. Williams received $6 million in federal aid.

According to a Washington Post story on how reforms are going so far, the school spent much of that money on additional personnel:

With the federal aid, T.C. Williams got 4 1/2 new counseling positions and an assistant counseling director to help with student achievement plans. There are also nine new math and English teachers, as well as consultants to help in such areas as teacher training.

Many of the other reforms seem to center on enforcing existing rules:

The school's ban on iPods, cellphones and hats was newly and strictly enforced, even during lunch. Students were not allowed to wander the halls, and classes were to be taught "from bell to bell."

The fact that The Washington Post published a long feature on these relatively minor changes shows how limited the will or resources to reform failing schools really are in the educational establishment. A new principal and fewer iPods in class is not enough to make a school like T.C. into a success story. They're not even newsworthy, except for the fact that it's more than most schools bother to try.

And the problem isn't money: The school is located in a safe neighborhood and housed in swank new building. Nonetheless, the feds kicks in more money, guidance counselors are hired, well-intentioned people try to do their best in a broken system, and the can clatters down the road. 

Read a tale of more substantial reform efforts here. Warning: The story has a sad ending. To read about a radical fix for our education woes, go here.