Bruce Randolph School, once lauded by Obama, criticized by Diane Ravitch in New York Times

Four months after President Barack Obama shouted out Denver's Bruce Randolph School in his State of the Union Address, lauding the fact that the formerly low-performing school graduated 97 percent of its seniors last year, education writer Diane Ravitch gave the school a different kind of shout-out in the New York Times this week.

And hers wasn't nearly as congratulatory.

Here's what Ravitch, author of The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, had to say:

Mr. Obama's praise for Randolph, which he said had been "one of the worst schools in Colorado," seems misplaced. Noel Hammatt, a former teacher and instructor at Louisiana State University, looked at data from the Web site of the Colorado Department of Education.

True, Randolph (originally a middle school, to which a high school was added) had a high graduation rate, but its ACT scores were far below the state average, indicating that students are not well prepared for college. In its middle school, only 21 percent were proficient or advanced in math, placing Randolph in the fifth percentile in the state (meaning that 95 percent of schools performed better). Only 10 percent met state science standards. In writing and reading, the school was in the first percentile.

Her op-ed also attempted to debunk the supposed success of two other "turnaround" schools: Urban Prep Academy in Chicago and Miami Central Senior High School, writing that "the only miracle at these schools was a triumph of public relations."

What is to be learned from these examples of inflated success? The news media and the public should respond with skepticism to any claims of miraculous transformation. The achievement gap between children from different income levels exists before children enter school.

But there are scores of people who disagree with Ravitch, who has been critical of the so-called school-reform movement. Among them is Senator (and former Denver Public Schools superintendent) Michael Bennet, who gave a speech at Bruce Randolph's graduation ceremony this year. Here's an excerpt from the text of the speech, which Bennet e-mailed to supporters:

Today -- with a student population that is 96 percent students of color and 97 percent qualify for free and reduced lunch -- Bruce Randolph can boast that 98.7 percent of its students are graduating (that's 77 out of 78 students -- just to be clear).

One hundred percent of those students applied to college. Ninety-seven percent were accepted.

You have shown what is possible when a few people have an idea -- come together, and work hard.

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With such differing opinions about education reform, the debate over whether that idea is a good one is sure to continue long after the graduates bid adieu to Bruce Randolph.

More from our Education archives: "North High students are graduating at a higher rate thanks to credit recovery, but at what cost?"


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