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NCLB Outrages

Report: Costly plan failed to improve schools

Ohanian Comment: Wouldn't it be wonderful if people came up with $100 million plans with a visionary, instead of knee-jerk, reach?

  • In addition to regular library budget, a special budget which lets children choose books for the library

  • For the really innovative, Give children monthly coupons, good for a book of their choice at a local bookstore. {I did this with 7th graders and the reading scores soared.)

  • Triple the length and frequency of recess

  • Increase music, art, and shop opportunities

  • Give older students real choice. Let them drop a class--and double up on another one.

  • NOTE: Crew has left town. He doesn't have to answer for this debacle.

    BY Kathleen McGrory

    A $100 million investment in Miami-Dade County's lowest performing public schools failed to boost student achievement, according to the school district's final report on the program.

    The School Improvement Zone was a three-year push at 39 elementary, middle and senior high schools throughout the county. Students participated in a specialized reading program and had a longer school day than students at other schools. They also had a longer school year.

    The zone was former Superintendent Rudy Crew's pet project. It was praised in education circles across the country.

    But the investment yielded few results when it came to student performance on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Tests, according to the district analysis.

    And both students and teachers said they were exhausted by the extra hour a day in the classroom and the heavy workload.


    ''The zone program exhibited at best an inconsistent impact that was limited to the elementary grades,'' program evaluators wrote.

    Crew, who took a $368,000 buyout from the School Board in September, did not return calls for comment on Thursday.

    In previous interviews with The Miami Herald, Crew disputed claims that the School Improvement Zone was ineffective. He said it changed the district's attitude about its lowest performing schools and put the schools in a position to make a dramatic turnaround.

    Crew chose the schools based on past performance on state tests.

    Over its three-year life span, the initiative cost more than $100 million. Some of the money came from funds earmarked for low-income schools. Major costs included educational materials and compensation for the employees who worked the extended school day and year.

    Reaction from the Miami-Dade School Board on Thursday was mixed.

    Board Vice Chairwoman Marta Pérez, an early critic of the zone, called the project a waste of taxpayer money.

    ''It was more of a public relations campaign to make the administration look good than anything else,'' Pérez said. ``They used massive amounts of money without testing or piloting it first.''

    Board member Agustín Barrera disagreed. ''It was a well-thought-out plan that, unfortunately, did not bear the fruits we all thought it would,'' he said.

    He added: ``The mistake would have been not trying the zone, because then we would have failed the students by not trying something new.''

    When Crew arrived in Miami in 2004, he made the School Improvement Zone the centerpiece of his administration.

    The zone helped Crew's administration garner numerous awards: In 2008, the zone was named one of the top innovations in government by Harvard University.

    The results, however, were less flashy.

    At the time of the launch, Crew pledged to eliminate all D and F schools from within the zone by 2007.

    But by the close of the 2007-08 school year -- the final year of the program -- none of the eight senior high schools had earned above a D. Four earned Fs.

    While some of the elementary schools and K-8 centers made improvement, the gains were inconsistent.

    After its three-year run, board members decided not to continue the program.


    The school district released its final analysis of the program this week.

    It compared the schools within the School Improvement Zone to a group of 39 other schools within Miami-Dade County.

    The schools selected for the control group had similar percentages of black students, students learning English and students eligible for free or reduced price lunches, an indicator of poverty.

    The analysis looked at each group's performance on state exams.

    On the reading, math and science exams, the schools in the control group did better than the schools in the School Improvement Zone, according to the report.

    Zone students did slightly better on the writing exam.

    The report also noted that the extended school year -- starting a week early and tacking extra days onto the end -- was ineffective.

    Many students didn't attend class once summer vacation began at other schools, district officials wrote.

    Additionally, teachers and principals reported that ``proficient students felt stigmatized by the mandatory additional time, which was viewed as a punishment rather than an enhancement.''

    District administrators knew of the problem, according to the report. But their hands were tied by contractual obligations to zone employees.

    School Board member Ana Rivas Logan, a vocal opponent of the School Improvement Zone, said the district could learn from the experience. ``This shows us that throwing money at the problem is not the solution. We need to implement programs that have proven results.''

    — Katleen McGrory
    Miami Herald


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