Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The Limits of Duct Tape

January 9, 2008, 5:30 p.m.; January 10, 2008, 7:00 a.m.

Volvos and Violence

For years -- and probably well over 100,000 miles -- I drove a 1963 Volvo that had nearly 200,000 miles on it when I bought it from a friend for $300 in the 1970s.

The engine was fine and would be running still, but for the rust that caused my mechanic to finally refuse to continue work on it out of concern for my safety.

I sanded. I painted. It never helped much, and any superficial improvements quickly vanished.

Because the rust was not on the surface. It was from within.

This experience occurred to me this morning as an apt analogy when reading Heiu Pham, "Schools Talk Next Steps for Safety," Iowa City Press-Citizen, January 9, 2007, p. A1.

Having served on the school board, I have sufficient confidence in the ICCSD administration and board to believe that they will acquire and apply, if not the most expensive, certainly an adequate variety of good quality duct tape and paint to the violence in our two conventional high schools, City and West: more and brighter lighting, video cameras, ID badges, and locks on the doors.

This is commendable. Besides they have to "do something" -- and what it looks like they are going to do is to take these conventional and widely advocated steps that are unlikely to generate much opposition, along with the possibility of armed guards, metal detectors, and locking up those students who misbehave.

But none of these approaches will do anything to even slow, let alone stop, the increasing internal "rust" in our conventional high schools that take the form of violence.

The fact is, we have deliberately created these rusting high schools. We knew what we were doing. We were told one of the consequences would be increased violence. Why did we do it anyway? For a lot of reasons -- including a desire to maintain a record of winning football teams.

And what is it I'm talking about?

I'm talking about the fact that, handed $40 million by taxpayers, the ICCSD Administration and Board decided to spend it to make our two conventional high schools even larger rather than build more, smaller high schools. The data is overwhelming that, as high schools increase in size above about 600 students there is a related increase not only in violence but in dropouts, absences, alcohol and drug abuse, bullying, graffiti, teen pregnancy, and other behavior we find disturbing -- not to mention, often, a decline in academic performance.

They are behaviors, not incidentally, involving and affecting all socio-economic classes.

It's not always true that "you get what you pay for" (as Consumer Reports has been pointing out for 70 years). But this is one instance in which it is. We paid $40 million, we increased the size of our high schools notwithstanding the warnings that we were buying increased levels of violence, and we got what we paid for.

Want more?

I've written about the subject more than once before, most recently in Nicholas Johnson, "What's the Answer to High School Violence?" in "Violence at City and West High," December 15, 2007, 7:00 p.m. I won't repeat it all again here today.

But I do wish the Board and Administration would give more attention to building schools that won't rust from the inside, and less to the duct tape and paint.

[Jan 10.] Interested in K-12 issues generally? Take a look at Editorial, "Look to Lauded Schools for Improvement Ideas," Des Moines Register, January 10, 2008; and the detailed professional evaluation of K-12 education state-by-state in Education Week, "Quality Counts 2008: Tapping Into Teaching/Unlocking the Key to Student Success/State Highlights Reports," Education Week, January 10, 2008.

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Anonymous said...

It takes a majority vote on the board to set direction and tell Plugge to change. This won't happen and the ol' "plug the leak in the dike with a finger" practices will continue.

Nick, please come back to the board, we need you.

Anonymous said...

You are absolutely right on this school size issue. The building of large schools is insane. And predictably, violence, absenteeism, and substance abuse have increased.

Who cares? Administrative salaries have increased. Apparently no one is getting paid for leadership based on performance.

Schools are left to fend for themselves in an environment they cannot control: changing demographics of society; increase in abuse; both parents working; increased demands on school teachers. However what they can control - size, programming etc. -- schools are not doing as well as they could.

I would also add schools don't seem to teach common sense activities. Students don't know how to interact with a bank. Student don't know how to shift through crap in bad credit inducements. And as I found out (as I helped 5 Solon students change a tire one morning) students cannot even find the jack in the trunk of their car not to mention change a flat tire.

Something needs to change. Although I supported a main stream Democratic candidate, I will admit none will change things. Obama offers fundamental changes, while really being a traditional liberal Democrat. Clinton offers benevolent big Govt, and Edwards says to grab the money from the rich, as if that will solve things.

The Republicans want more of the same, unless it is torture, then they want more.

The only true agents of change are Ron Paul and Dennis K, both of whom are ignored by the press, and not included by the system.

Those schools will become larger, and more violent because the leadership is essentially all about talk and little action (unless it enriches someone).

Anonymous said...

You are right about School Size.

However, what you have going on at City High are the fruits of the Iowa City Human Services Industry recruiting from Chicago. I expect much open enrollment white flight out of the City High District, not only to West, but to West Branch, Lone Tree, and Solon. Also, there will be a spike in Regina I would expect. City High will become an isolated black school or at least known as one. Not saying its right, it just is.

Anonymous said...

If Chicago get the 2016 Olympics, Mayor (I cheat) Daly will use big corporate money to completely remake the waterfront in Chicago, driving out many more people to Iowa, downstate Illinois, and Wisconsin.

We aint seen nothing yet...