The debate continues to rage over who or what is responsible for Douglass High's poor academic performance.
Douglass High's students' fate was determined long before they entered high school. First Grade performance is a good indicator of subsequent academic performance. If anything, first grade performance tends to be a high water mark.
When the students shown in the Douglass High documentary (shot in 2004-05) were in first grade, Baltimore's academic performance was pitiful--so pitiful that Baltimore decided to take drastic action in 1998. That year Baltimore mandated that almost all Baltimore schools adopt the Open Court reading program as their core reading curriculum. That year they also decided to test all first graders using CTBS. Here are the results.
In 1998, Baltimore students were performing at about the 24th percentile on CTBS/4. And, you can bet the Douglass was drawing students from schools falling below this average. The Douglass students shown in the Documentary were past first grade by 1998, but the low scores of the 1998 cohort are indicative of the quality of education they received in K and 1. Academically, you could write off 75% of Baltimore students. There is a very good chance that a struggling read in first grade will be a struggling reader in third grade and last I checked it's difficult to motivate a child to learn if they can't read very well.
After adopting Open Court, Baltimore's first grade reading performance shot up to the 59th percentile. These 2003 first graders are not yet in high school.
I think it's safe to assume that the incidence of toothaches, bellyaches, student hunger, racial discrimination, bad home life, uncaring parents, and all the other excuses teachers like to bandy about to excuse their performance remained about the same. The only thing that changed was the reading curriculum to something that has a validated research base. Seemingly by magic, reading performance improved by about a standard deviation. This, supposedly, is impossible.
The study from which I stole this table actually indicates that student reading performance in Baltimore could have (and actually was) improved by twice this amount in 11 high-poverty schools that adopted an even better reading curricula. You'll have to wait for the next post to find out more.
Nonetheless, it's safe to say that a large part of the problems present at Douglass High could have been prevented if the Baltimore schools actually did a better job doing what we pay them to do -- educating children.