The MetWest High School Story (Part 6)

I now sum up what I have learned about this small Oakland high school and render a judgment about its “success.” As I have stated “success” is not an either/or verdict. It has as many facets as does the crown of a cut diamond. Depending upon the available light, these facets shine brilliantly. MetWest’s ”success” is multi-faceted, highly political, yet marked by flaws.

Surely, the media accounts of MetWest have been positive, suggesting “success” in the number of high school graduates entering college and students learning through internships. That the small high school has been around for nearly two decades and now has a waiting list of 150 students eager to attend the school is further evidence that effectiveness in reaching particular goals, longevity and popularity, mainstream markers of “success,” seemingly apply to MetWest. [i]

Here I apply a two-part effectiveness criterion of  whether the school has achieved its goals with minimum political conflict. On the latter point, the answer is yes. Although there was initial political skirmishing and opposition, the finesse that the teacher founders displayed in getting this small high school adopted by the school board and its continuity for nearly two decades even with much principal turnover has generated little pushback from the community.[ii] Where there is an emerging conflict, it comes not from the community but from within the district.

There have been internal political battles over expanding the school to 320 students split between two sites. District officials have pressed the current principal and staff to establish another MetWest school to double its enrollment in order to reduce the current high per-student cost of maintaining the small high school. Such an expansion may well result in a split MetWest campus but at a political cost in staff disaffection and dilution of the BPL design. As I write in the summer of 2019, the principal informed me that MetWest will operate another campus that welcomes 42 ninth graders in the Fall of 2019 growing each subsequent year. Overall, then, there has been very little external opposition to MetWest from parents and mentors at community and business agencies housing school interns. [iii]

Beyond this political marker of “success,” the other half of the effectiveness judgment depends upon MetWest achieving BPL and OUSD academic goals including the dominant measures of “success,” that is, test scores, high school graduation, preparation for college yields. In this respect, a mixed record emerges.

Consider OUSD metrics on academic outcomes. MetWest’s graduation rate (93 percent) has improved in past five years and is higher than the district’s and the dropout rate (7 percent) has been going down in past five years and is lower than OUSD’s. MetWest seniors prepared for college and university admission over past five years has gone from 69 percent to 83 percent while OUSD average was 51 percent (2016).[iv]

But reading and math test scores for 2017 show that MetWest students still have a long climb ahead. In reading, 23 percent were above grade level and 29 percent were at grade level— but 47 percent were “multiple years below grade level.” In math, high percentages of students did not take the test (35 to 47 percent in 2016 and 2017). Those that did, scored poorly, that is, 51 percent were two or more years below grade level in 2016 and 2017.[v]

In its 2018 report to WASC, the staff’s conclusion on reading and math results was: “While MetWest outperformed the district, we still have a long way to go.” The staff looked ahead to creating reading and math literacy plans that were vertically and horizontally aligned by grade level and subject, helping struggling students, and collecting data in specific areas that students were having the most difficulty.[vi]

With Michelle Deiro named principal in 2018, a number of changes proposed in that WASC report have occurred. As the Report said:

[W]e needed to focus on gaining clarity in what we are teaching and why so that we could better assess student outcomes. Our [professional development] goals for the year are: 1) Articulate and document what all students will be expected to learn in each class and internship (create class and LTI learning targets that are aligned with MetWest Vision) and 2) Create and utilize assessments which accurately measure student growth through collaborative work.

Changes did occur. For example, all Advisor/Teachers now have a common period for preparation to make more collaboration possible. Grade and department level teams have been formed to further both intra-staff communication and joint work. All of this is aimed at increasing test scores and other metrics that OUSD, parents, and community activists use to judge school “success”[vii]

There is more to judging MetWest’s effectiveness, however. Considering the high school’s vision and BPL’s design, documenting what happens to individual graduates after leaving SJHA, the intersection of academics and internships, and community activism, all of which are at the core of MetWest’s mission, become the grist for judging “success.”

MetWest prepares young adults to recognize and take advantage of all resources to further their well-being and the well-being of their communities. Our graduates will have the skills, habits, knowledge, and networks to overcome obstacles to their success, access four-year colleges, engage in fulfilling work, and contribute positively to our world

Collecting such data to see if these ambitious (and multiple) goals have been met is an enormous job requiring follow-up surveys and interviews to capture over time what occurs to students who attended MetWest, graduated, went to college, entered careers, started families, and engaged in their communities. Gathering such longitudinal data is uncommon among U.S. schools in general and rare for particular high schools.

Thus, there is strong evidence that MetWest was “successful” politically in getting adopted, established, and sustained over time without creating any significant conflict within the community since its founding. No small achievement. It casts the glow of “success” around the small high school. It is far harder, however, to ascertain whether MetWest has achieved its vision, mission, and goals during the four years at the high school. Lack of data and tidying up amorphous goals into specific terms is tough to do when it comes to educational policies anywhere. At a complex place as a small urban high school, it is especially difficult. For what is missing are data on what occurs after students have graduated, finished college, and entered careers that are telling insofar as MetWest reaching its desired outcomes.

MetWest graduates. Apart from media accounts and individual stories told by students, Advisors/Teachers, administrators, and work-site mentors, I could find no follow-up reports tracking what has occurred to those MetWest graduates who attended college and what they are doing currently. After all, the BPL design and MetWest mission is to have students, most of whom are the first in their families to attend college and then go on to complete the college or university they enrolled in. MetWest graduates since the early aughts are now in their 20s and early thirties launched in careers and families. I could not find such follow-up studies.

Internships. To what degree have the internship experiences been a factor in academic classes, assessing student performance, choosing a college major and getting a job after completing high school and later earning a degree? It is a reasonable question to ask, given MetWest’s mission, the goals of the LTI and the BPL design.

That internships played a role within classes I observed in lesson discussions, listening to students, and interviewing teachers. Among many students, internships became the basis for the Senior Thesis Project and final public Exhibition of their work. These performance assessments are part of the MetWest experience. Apart from stories I have heard and situations I have observed, there are connections but, again, I have not seen any reports that document these important linkages.

Community activism. Displayed continually in the atrium and classrooms are posters, paintings, and printed exhortations to take action in the community. I heard from students (and Advisor/Teachers) who have been active in political protests and campaigns in the Fall of 2018. Both MetWest teachers and students, I was told, worked hard in the run-up to the February 2019 teacher strike. The evidence is surely there but uncollected. Scattered among media accounts and anecdotes recounted by students and teachers is much involvement with the community beyond internships. A systematic collection of these data would help in determining in what ways and to what degree the BPL design and MetWest internships account for such community engagement.[viii]

With this mixed picture of “success” at MetWest in applying the two-fold effectiveness criterion (goal achievement with little political conflict), has this small high school approaching two decades of existence in OUSD expanded the mainstream definition of school “success.” Yes it has. Although I have supplied asterisks to the achievement of some of MetWest’s mission and goals, the BPL design is intact. And MetWest’s enactment of that design tailored to the demands of OUSD and the community it serves has broadened the meaning of “success.”

But MetWest after nearly two decades is not yet a resilient “success.” At best it is a robust “success” on the cusp of resiliency but with dark clouds forming in the district office mandate for the school to double in size and have two locations within the next few years. Should that expansion occur, conflicts within the staff, among parents, and community activists could rise to a screech making any future “success” precarious.

With one eye cocked on the traditional measures of “success” such as test scores, graduation rates, and college attendance and the other eye cocked on personalizing learning and community activism through a blend of academics and work experiences, MetWest has stretched the customary definition of school “success” in U.S schools to include personal well-being and community well-being. While all of the data may not be collected yet, it is clear to me that MetWest’s definition of “success” has expanded the common (and narrow) definition of the purpose of tax-supported public schooling to include other ways of judging, untidy as it may be, what a “successful” high school should be in a capitalist democratic society.[ix]

__________________________________

[i] Interview with Michelle Deiro, April 4, 2019; see above citations of media accounts on MetWest.

[ii]Allan McConnell, “Policy Success, Policy Failure, and Grey Areas in-Between,” Journal of Public Policy, 2010, 30(3), pp.345-362.

[iii] Interview with Michelle Deiro, April 4, 2019; email from Michelle Deiro, July 3, 2019.

[iv] Oakland Unified School District, “MetWest High School Progress Report,” for April 17, 2018 visit from Accrediting Commission for Schools, Western ssociation of Schools and Colleges, pp. 5-6.

[v] Ibid., pp. 7-9.

[vi] Ibid., p. 10.

[vii] Ibid., p. 13

[viii] ARTICLE ON SHANNON CAREY AT PROTEST—BERTA”S CLASS ON TEACHER STRIKE—SERGE’S CLASS ON CAPITALISM; INTERNSHIPS IN POLITICAL CAMPAIGNS

[ix] I sent a draft of this chapter to Michelle Deiro, principal of MetWest. She read it and corrected a few errors I had made in describing the school and its program. For that I am most grateful.

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Filed under how teachers teach, school leaders, school reform policies

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