CPS and the federal government are pumping millions of extra cash into a cadre of long-failing high schools, in hopes of finally improving them. But systemic obstacles still stand in their way.
- The efforts might be too little, too late. With more school options and competition, turnaround high schools have lost students and cannot support the same comprehensive program they once did.
- Principals need enough students to keep their budget from bottoming out, but hesitate to take students who have virtually no chance of graduating.
- School culture and climate at turnarounds has improved, but these schools still have a long way to go with academics. Marshall’s incoming 9th-graders have lower test scores than freshmen who enrolled just four years ago. Marshall also lacks honors and Advanced Placement classes.
- High suspension rates have long been a problem in schools like Marshall. Out-of-school suspension increases the likelihood that a student will drop out. But CPS has yet to develop a comprehensive strategy or standards for in-school suspension programs.
- Marshall’s dysfunctional special education program contributed to the decision to place the school in the turnaround program. So far, the school has improved services to special needs students and the state Board of Education removed its sanctions. The next step: mainstreaming more students and improving their education.