A Year Inside One of America’s 45,000* Failing Public Schools
Brookside Elementary, in Norwalk, Conn., is preparing for the first day of the 2010-11 school year, and another chance to improve its failing scores on the statewide Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT), the annual, two-week series of standardized tests associated with No Child Left Behind. The challenges are many, and for the faculty—whose jobs may depend on their students’ ability to improve on the test—the stakes are high.
Ten-year-old Hydea is about to start fifth grade—with second grade reading skills. Her close friend Marbella is a little further along, but during the school day she’s more interested in socializing than learning, still not convinced that school is important. And then there’s Mr. Morey, their teacher, who must inspire the two girls to learn while at the same time – with the help of Mrs. Schaefer, the school’s literacy specialist – choose which should receive the extra reading help that might help her reach grade level.
In past years, both girls would have received help from Mrs. Schaefer. But with budget cutbacks and a change in her job description, the third in as many years, Mrs. Schaefer will have adequate time this year for just one. The student she chooses will be the child she and her fellow teachers believe has the best chance of achieving proficiency on the CMT. It is their hope that this student, along with a handful of other failing pupils whom they’ve targeted, will lift Brookside from failing to passing – an achievement it has not reached since the advent of No Child Left Behind.
This is the story of Brookside – one of America’s roughly 45,000 failing public schools – and those who populate it: administrators and faculty, students and their parents, the superintendent and local school board. It’s a chronicle of the struggles each of them face over the course of the 2010-11 school term, and of the hard, sometimes regretful choices school personnel are forced to make in order to keep themselves and their school afloat.
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