Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Only Connect

via Johann Hari . . .

We call our schools “comprehensive”, but in fact – under both political parties – they are ruthlessly socially segregated. Across much of the country, the wealthy kids are bunched together in “good” schools, and the poor kids are penned off in “bad” schools. British kids are segregated by their parents’ house prices – the “catchment area” – and this is then made even worse by the grammar schools and private schools Starkey champions. So the left-over schools are made up of left-out kids like Jamie’s, or my Trocadero friends, and they have to climb a mountain every day to do the basics. Where there is a concentration of chaotic kids, the school will be chaotic.

There is an alternative – and it has been demonstrated best in, of all places, the city of Raleigh, North Carolina. Ten years ago, their school system was in a familiar mess, and they passed a simple law to try to solve it. No school could have more than 40 percent of its kids on free school meals, or 25 percent of who were a grade or more below their expected level in reading or maths. Suddenly, the kids who needed most help wouldn’t be lumped together. Kids like Connor and Angelique would be broken up and spread out across the school system, where schools could give them the attention they needed.

The results were startling. Within a decade, Raleigh went from one of the worst-performing districts in America to one of the best. The test scores of poor kids doubled, while those of wealthier children also saw a slight increase. Teenage pregnancies, crime and high school drop-out rates fell substantially.

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