Troubled urban school is turned around, but cost gives pause

Locke High School in Los Angeles has seen significant progress since it was taken over by a charter school group in 2008, but the gains have come at a considerable cost, reports the New York Times. As recently as 2008, Locke High School was one of the nation’s worst failing schools and drew national attention for its hallway beatings, bathroom rapes, and rooftop parties held by gangs. For every student who graduated, four others dropped out. Now, two years after a charter school group took over, gang violence is sharply down, fewer students are dropping out, and test scores have inched upward. Newly planted olive trees in Locke’s central plaza have helped transform the school’s concrete quadrangle into a place where students congregate and do homework. Locke High represents both the opportunities and challenges of the Obama administration’s $3.5 billion effort, financed largely by the economic stimulus bill, to overhaul thousands of the nation’s failing schools. The school has become a mecca for reformers, partly because the Education Department (ED) web site hails it as an exemplary turnaround effort. But progress is coming at considerable cost: an estimated $15 million over the planned four-year turnaround, largely financed by private foundations. That is more than twice the $6 million in federal turnaround money that ED has set as a cap for any single school. Skeptics say the Locke experience might be too costly to replicate…

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