Saturday, March 05, 2011

Why Lake Oswego Junior Highs Won't Close

With better educational and social outcomes, cost savings, and better community/school relationships, why won't the Lake Oswego junior highs close? (See my previous blog post where I make the case for closing them.) In short, the reason junior highs won't close (and exist at all), is that they are great for teachers and administrators.

Prestige and salaries tend to be higher for junior high principals than K-8 principals. The Vice Principal position is a great stepping stone position not readily available in a K-8 setting. Junior High teachers also have a bit more prestige than 7th and 8th grade teachers in elementary schools. Teachers can teach the classes they are interested in and avoid classes they aren't interested in. In a large junior high school, bad teachers can hide out for years as the active, "in the know" parents avoid them and the less "in the know" parents don't have the power to do any damage to their standing.

In a junior high setting, accountability for student outcomes is muted for teachers who only teach a student in one of 6+ classes. For teachers, the burden of communicating with parents on routine matters and dealing with behavioral and other problems are offloaded to junior high counselors. While this is a convenience for teachers, it blurs accountability even more. In an environment with 2 classes of 7th graders and 2 classes of 8th graders accountability and responsibility is concentrated and clear.

With students from multiple schools mingled into two junior high schools after 5th or 6th grade, it is harder to see differences in schools and hold the schools accountable. With 4 or 5 schools sending 8th graders to each high school, it will be very easy for the high school teachers, administrators, and involved parents to see which K-8 schools are doing a great job and which schools are doing less well. Lack of accountability and visibility into failures doesn't serve students and parents, but it does make teachers and administrators lives easier.

I hope that the pain of closing three elementary schools that are very important to their communities will cause parents and the community to think again about the choice in front of Lake Oswego schools. I hope the idea of expanding the problematic Junior Highs to younger and more vulnerable students scares the community into positive action.

I respect the work administrators and advisory groups have done to come up with alternatives to save money for the Lake Oswego school district. I think the entrenched interests of administrators and teachers have influenced the recommendations away from closing junior highs and toward closing elementary schools. I am not optimistic the best choice will be made.

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