El Paso Superintendent Pushed Latino Students to Drop Out

During his time  in power, El Paso Public Schools superintendent Lorenzo Garcia sought to identify struggling students who hurt the district’s ratings and then worked to push them out of the system.

At a time when efforts to reverse the dismal high school graduation rates of Latino students is a national education discussion, Garcia was actively pursuing the opposite agenda. In 2011, about 83 percent of El Paso students were Latino. The former Texas superintendent recently pleaded guilty to fraud and now possibly faces several years of jail time, reports The Associated Press.

He resorted to practices including having staff photograph students crossing the border from Mexico to attend the school district, and then seeking to remove those who were not performing well. He used assessments to identify freshmen at risk of failing state exams. He also held back high school freshmen who were limited English proficient, had attendance issues or had bad grades. Students were urged to leave school or transfer to charter schools.

Once the students were gone, test scores rose because the most at-risk students were gone and no longer able to impact the ratings. As a result, the district’s rating improved from “Academically Acceptable” to a “Recognized” rating. The district also became eligible for more federal funding.

Former Texas State Sen. Eliot Shapleigh was the one who finally brought attention to the practices after hearing complaints from parents. The El Paso Times newspaper also played a key role by requesting correspondence between the school district and federal officials, which exposed the scandal.

Former student Roger Avalos, one of the dropouts, is happy to see Garcia facing prison time. He is taking classes to earn his GED while working at a cowboy boot factory.

“Justice would be getting my high school diploma, a picture with the cap and gown,” said the now 21-year-old.

Have you heard of school officials urging students at risk of failing accountability exams to transfer to charter schools? Do school officials find struggling students worth helping, or do they give up on them and instead focus on helping more borderline students?

Related Links:

– “El Paso school district seeks to rebuild after fraudulent testing practices by administrators.” The Associated Press.

– “Eliot Shapleigh: Former EPISD superintendent deserves harsh sentence.” El Paso Times.

Texas District Brings Dropouts Back to School with College Courses

Pharr-San Juan-Alamo School District Superintendent Daniel King makes an unusual pitch to high school dropouts to get them to re-enroll in the district: He offers them the option to start college while they are finishing high school.

“It’s kind of an oxymoron, but we used an early college philosophy for dropouts,” King told PBS NewsHour. “We brought them back in. Our message was, you didn’t finish high school. Start college today.”

He opened the College, Career, and Technology Academy (CC&T Academy) in 2007. Volunteers go door-to-door to recruit dropouts to attend the school, which now serves students between the ages of 18 to 26. They are able to take dual enrollment courses to earn college credits. This year, there were  70 graduates of the academy , and about 60 percent of them will go on to college.

The South Texas district on the U.S.-Mexico border serves about 32,000 students, 99 percent  of whom are Latino and 89 percent are economically disadvantaged.

The college focus also extends to regular students: The district opened up the T-STEM Early College High School to meet the needs of juniors and seniors. Many of the graduates finished school with a two-year degree from South Texas College, a community college, and a high school diploma.

By numerous accounts, the strategy has worked.  Education Week recently reported that about 2,000 of the district’s 8,000 high school students are enrolled in a college course each semester, and the four-year graduation rate has increased from 62 percent to 87 percent over the past three years.

The Texas Education Agency featured the district in a best practices guide for school districts.

One student helped by the PSJA district initiative is Jonathan Sanchez, who says he dropped out when he got involved in drugs. He enrolled in the program in January, and takes courses including business computer systems.

“There’s, like, so much going on, it feels like my brain is being occupied the whole time,” he told PBS.

The story was featured on PBS NewsHour as part of the American Graduate project, reported on by John Merrow of Learning Matters. A second story on the school district will air tonight on NewsHour.

Related Links:

– “In South Texas, Luring Dropouts back by Sending them to College.” PBS NewsHour.

– “I have Seen the Future.” Learning Matters.

– American Graduate Project. Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

– “For many Latino Students, College Seems Out of Reach.” Diplomas Count 2012. Education Week.

– “High-Yield Dropout Prevention/Recovery Program-Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD.” Best Practices. Texas Education Agency.

– College, Career & Technology Academy. Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District.